Hierarchy in Graphic Design: The Ultimate Guide to Graphic Design

Every design has the same goal: to get noticed! Yet it’s impossible for the viewer to notice every single element of a design, all at once.

The human brain can only absorb so much information at any given time, and that’s where visual hierarchy comes into play. 

What is visual hierarchy in graphic design?

Visual hierarchy establishes a rank order, or an order of importance, for each element in the design. Creating with visual hierarchy in mind allows you to consider how the viewer will digest your work.

In real-time, the average viewer spends mere moments taking in a design. You only get a few seconds to grab the viewer’s attention! The viewer needs to be struck by the most important elements of your design immediately, before their attention meanders onto something else.  A strong visual hierarchy will make your viewer take notice of the fundamental content, or the most important information in your design.

For an interactive design, an effective visual hierarchy makes the design user-friendly. The visual hierarchy determines which elements that the user will interact with first.

How to effectively use hierarchy of information in graphic design

As you arrange the elements within your design, take a moment to consider the purpose of each element. Some elements are more “content-based” whereas other elements exist as a part of the aesthetic experience. Yet other elements might be a combination of these two types.

Since the main “meat” of your design should be the content or “informational elements,” consider ranking these elements up higher in your visual hierarchy.

Try using some of these tricks of the trade to direct your viewer’s attention toward the most important information:

Alignment

Alignment alters perception, both on the horizontal and vertical axes. Well-aligned text boxes will draw the appropriate attention to the message rather than detracting from the message. Text and icons should be aligned with regard to the pattern of the overall design; for example, if the text box arrangement moves left-middle-right, left-middle-right on a diagonal, rather than left-left-left-right-middle.

Scale and/or size

The positioning of elements should determine their size and scaling, since these factors are fundamental to visual hierarchy.  A header will usually be larger than its corresponding font. A logo for a brand might be larger or smaller than the other elements in the design, depending on the brand strategy. Determine if the brand intends to be subtle, or if it would rather make a prominent statement.

Typefaces

Part of the joy of typefaces is that each has its own “personality.” The personalities of typefaces might be loud and overbearing, or delicate and diminutive. Select the typeface that matches your visual hierarchy, making sure to reserve the strong typefaces for “in-your-face,” quickly-noticeable messaging.

Color and contrast

Brighter colors attract immediate attention only if the surrounding colors are muted. Contrast plays an important role in visual hierarchy, as a color will always stand out over its opposite color. The color wheel can be your friend here, as you play with complementary colors and various hues to make specific elements “pop” in the visual field.

Use Gravit Designer for your next project

Gravit Designer provides the ultimate in flexibility for your design projects. Our cutting-edge software allows you to easily experiment with variation in your visual hierarchy, helping you to find the arrangement of elements that works most effectively toward your goal. 

Conclusion

Visual hierarchy is a subtle but important aspect of design. When the visual hierarchy is well-done, the viewer immediately notices the most important information or message of the design. Sometimes finding the best visual hierarchy can be a process of trial-and-error, as you shift your elements around to create the most striking, polished appearance possible. 

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