A hierarchy is how we organise items into levels of importance, and a visual hierarchy is simply how we organise items visually.

 

Having a working knowledge of visual hierarchy is one of the principal tools available to a designer, as it helps us to dictate how the audience will view the design, where they will look first (then second, then third…) and as a result helps us to nail what really matters. Sure, designers spend a lot of time making things look good, but we want to express the purpose of the design first and foremost. A function first mindset helps the designer to always keep both brand and audience in mind; are we accurately expressing what really matters to the brand? Are the audience interpreting our design in the order that we want? Smart use of visual hierarchy improves our chances of answering: yes, to both.

 

Weak visual hierarchies provide little or no guidance as to what matters in a design (or by extension, to the brand behind it). In contrast, strong visual hierarchies guide visual and logical progression by indicating via visual cues, quickly, what matters most.

 

This should give us an idea of how important effective visual hierarchy is to designers, their work and the brands they represent. Getting it right is often key to successful visual communication.

 

The key to generating an effective visual hierarchy, is through careful application of contrast. Designers can create contrast by emphasising one element over another. Through various elements (think: size, position, colour, typography, texture, shape and orientation), contrast helps us to define values in design by how we perceive something (it’s values and properties), relative to something else.

Visual Hierarchy (3)

We can’t prioritise everything, so visual hierarchies provide order, helping us to emphasise where necessary and communicate importance. Before we begin to create a visual hierarchy, or in fact before we begin to design at all, there is a need to decide what matters most to a brand and to this particular piece design. Creating an intellectual imperative gives us, the brand designers, the ability to match that through hierarchy.