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11 Visual Hierarchy in Design Principles

Learn how to improve and create beautiful graphic designs.

Visual hierarchy in design is all about organizing your design elements in the order they should be seen, based on how important the element is. Headers should be larger and louder than supplemental copy. Your focal point should be obvious.

Regardless of what type of design you’re creating, these 11 visual hierarchy in design principles can help. Whether it’s about perspective, size, color or repetition, there are many different ways you can create hierarchy within a design.

8:28 Beginner
Video Transcript

Hello, world. Are you looking to spice up your design life a little bit?  Maybe take your image from zero to hero? Well, my name is Mike Ploger here with Visme and I’m here to show you how to take your image to the next level using 11 Visual Hierarchy in Design Principles.  

“Why does this matter?” you ask.  Well, a well-executed design will effortlessly guide your readers through your image.  There’s no confusion. No wasted energy.  

Take Morgan Stanley’s website, for example. This is a real life website that has applied visual hierarchy to its page, and it directs readers where to look.

First, we start with this unique, interesting image on the left-hand side of the page and before long, where we’ll find the font, the biggest font that we know exactly what we’re talking about. But of course, we want to learn a little bit more as we scroll down the rest of the page.  

Next thing you know, we are on the imagery at the bottom and we are locked in.  Over the next few minutes, we’ll show you some more good examples as well as some bad ones.  So stick with us. Shall we get started?

Hierarchy in Design Principle #1: Size

Does “size” matter? Absolutely. Just as Megalodon here. Size can drive emotion. They can signify importance. And also, the greater the scale, the greater the emphasis. Without that tiny little scuba diver there, it’ll probably just look like just a normal everyday shark swimming through the water. 

Here is an example of text with no visual hierarchy.  It’s all the exact same size. I don’t know what the focal point is.  And I don’t know what’s the most important.  

But here is an example of text with perfect visual hierarchy.  The image of the crown is included so the audience can make the connection between hierarchy and the traditional sense of kings and queens in order of importance, and hierarchy as used in design.

Hierarchy in Design Principle #2: Perspective

Our second visual hierarchy principle is Perspective.

Perspective can create an illusion of depth. Which is exactly what you see here. These five people aren’t actually balancing on a shoe string tied between two boots.  They’re just off in a distance while the boots are brought much closer to the camera to make them look a lot bigger in real life.  

Here’s a poor example of perspective and contrast. You can hardly read the text. Does “Esti Happy?” translate to “You Happy?”  No, I am not happy reading this text. There’s no depth of field, and it’s very difficult to read.

But, Esti Happy corrected themselves.  They have a blurred background in this image, which is called the Bokeh Effect, and as you can see it is now a 3D image, very, very easy to read.  

Keep an eye on the color here. Colors can also create depth. Bright colors look closer when they are on a dark background. Where dark colors look closer when they are on a bright background.

Hierarchy in Design Principle #3: Color and Contrast

Earlier we discussed the importance of size when it comes to drawing attention to your image. But the same exact thing can be said about color and contrast.

Take this Mad Men example. You have a strong black and white contrast, but you also throw in that popping red to make your image stand out and even draw attention to that beautiful dress in the Mad Men logo.

If you bring in this population statistic with little to no contrast, I have no idea what percentage of the population that you’re talking about. But if you dim the majority of that population, I know exactly what you’re talking about, and you have a clean and cohesive image.

Hierarchy in Design Principle #4: Typography

Ahhh, the challenge of choosing a font. What if I told you it wasn’t about the curves, it really just all comes back to the size.  

Here is an example of poor typographic hierarchy.  Yu Chen, he doesn’t really emphasize anything. I don’t know where to begin to look on his resume. And quite frankly, I’m onto the next one.  

In comes John Doe and everything is laid out perfectly. His name is the biggest, his titles are in bold, and I’m cruising through this baby like a ship on the way to the Bahamas.  Also, don’t forget the color. John applied visual hierarchy here and I’ll tell you what, he has the job.

Hierarchy in Design Principle #5: Proximity

Our fifth principle is Proximity.  Just like you did in high school or middle school, you want to hang around those that are you are most alike. Which is exactly what these guys are doing. It’s exactly what you want to do with your image.  

Take these pet robots image, for example. The headline’s kinda centered over who knows what. The caption’s way off to the side. It’s not all together. You want to put it together, you put the caption under the image, and you have a perfect cohesive image sticking together in proximity.

Hierarchy in Design Principle #6: Negative Space

Yeah, I really hope that your home or office doesn’t look like this.  You want to keep the clutter, you want to keep the negativity out of our lives. Right? Well, not in our designs.  

The use of negative space is much more appealing.  It’s easier to digest which is exactly what the Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers did with that hand reaching down for that ring.  

Here is an example of little negative space. You have font everywhere. It’s very difficult to read. Nope, it’s not easy to digest.

Here’s an example of a better use of negative space.  They condensed everything down. Just a few words to make it easier to read and easier to follow.

Hierarchy in Design Principle #7: Alignment

The seventh principle is Alignment.  

Naturally, our eyes like to read in an “F” pattern.  What this means is we start at the top left hand corner of the page before moving right then down.  Right again then down through the rest of the page.  

This image here doesn’t exactly follow the “F” pattern.  HERE TODAY is too centered. But if you take HERE TODAY and make it a little bit bigger, and you shift it off to the left hand side of the page, you have the perfect “F” pattern for your readers to follow.

Hierarchy in Design Principle #8: Rule of Odds

Have you ever had a friend that joined a new relationship, and they ran off just the two of them and became very, very boring?  It has certainly happened to me. I am not bitter about it.  

But it is exactly why everybody should follow the Rule of Odds.  This states that images are much more appealing when an odd number of subjects are applied.  

Take this image of these product features. There’s just two of them. There’s not a lot of balance and quite frankly, it’s pretty boring. You add one more product feature, and that balance is created throughout the image.

Hierarchy in Design Principle #9: Repetition

Repetition, repetition, repetition.  

As you can see with this army here, repetition in the form of their uniform creates a sense of unity and cohesiveness.

But if you bring up these slides from a presentation, you probably can’t tell that they’re all supposed to go together.  None of the same fonts, none of the same icons. I’m a little confused.  

Which brings us to these presentation slides.  It’s all the exact same colors, styles, fonts, etc., to make you know that all of these slides go together because of repetition.

Hierarchy in Design Principle #10: Leading Lines

If you really want to grab the viewer’s attention, you can create movement in the form of Leading Lines.

Like right here with these French fries that are leading right up to the ketchup bottle and all of the sudden, I’m pretty hungry.  

But here in this image, there’s no leading lines at all.  I don’t really know where to look, and not to mention, the font is directly over the man’s face.

But here, if you flip that around, his gaze is directing you right towards YOUR BUSINESS AT A GLANCE.  

See: perfect example of leading lines.

Hierarchy in Design Principle #11: Rule of Thirds

Our eleventh and final visual hierarchy principle is the Rule of Thirds.  

What this means is you want to take your image and divide it into a three by three grid with each of the crossing points being your focal point on the image.  

This image doesn’t exactly follow the Rule of Thirds.  The woman is once again right in the middle with the wording off to the side. No real balance on the image.

However, if you create that grid and you get those four focal points ,you can see in this image, the woman is off to the side, so is the wording creating that balance in the image perfectly.

 

That’ll do it folks.  That’s all we have for the eleven visual hierarchy in design principles. 

Make sure you get after in your next design, and make sure you subscribe to our channel right here at Visme. 

For now, I am Mike Ploger making information beautiful.