5 must-know visual hierarchy principles for non-designers (Free download)

This is an article for non-designer colleagues, although it can work great as a review for more experienced designers as well! In today's world, creating eye-catching designs is critical to getting noticed. But if you don't know the principles of visual hierarchy, your designs will be visually unappealing to your audience.
Visual hierarchy

This is an article for non-designer colleagues, although it can work great as a review for more experienced designers as well!

In today’s world, creating eye-catching designs is critical to getting noticed. But if you don’t know the principles of visual hierarchy, your designs will be visually unappealing to your audience.

Please note: You do not need to have a degree in art to create interesting and excellent content, you just need to know the principles of graphic design.

In this article, I summarize the 5 principles of visual hierarchy in design: size and scale, color, contrast, proximity, and similarity.

Read also:

What is visual hierarchy?

Creating a strong and clear visual hierarchy in graphic and web design means organizing visual components strategically to direct attention and elicit a particular response.

By using contrast, color, size, and placement to define importance, viewers can effectively process the information conveyed by the graphic and web design.


1. Size and Scale

size and scale in visual hierarchy
Image credits: Domestika.

Let’s start with the first principle, as the visual hierarchy is critical to guide the viewer’s attention, which is why that size and scale play a key role.

You may have happened to be drawn to some social post or poster: when a page features a large element, it immediately catches the eye.

Well, it is by implementing the first principle, using different sizes and scales, that you can create a sense of priority and importance within graphic and web design.

Creating a hierarchy helps guide the viewer’s eye to the main message. A larger headline, for example, draws more attention than the supporting text.

Similarly, a larger graphic or image can become the main focal point of the dynamic composition, and this is true for both print and web design projects.

Actionable tips

positive and negative space in visual hierarchy
Image credits: Domestika.

  • Use all the elements to draw attention and create a good visual hierarchy.
  • Scale down less important elements to create emphasis and visual contrast.
  • Experiment with different sizes to find the right balance and visual impact.
  • Consider the overall composition and proportion of smaller elements in your graphic and web design.
  • The human eye perceives the same size and scale, so you should create specific larger elements with a sense of good visual hierarchy.

Relevant examples

vertical and horizontal lines in visual hierarchy
Image credits: Domestika.

As you can easily see in this image above, the thing that stands out to you the most is the word “Life,” which takes over everything else.

This is the power of using size and scale in design, as it allows us in a simple and intuitive yet impactful way to highlight specific design elements.

My personal experience

In my personal experience, size and scale in design principles play a major role in my creations and design skills with the aim of capturing the audience.

I come from an advertising design studio so capturing attention has been my main design goal for years.

I really enjoy playing with typeface sizes, in this way I am sure to immediately draw attention to the message to be conveyed, emphasizing its importance and thus improving the readability of the composition.

What differentiates my approach is that I constantly experiment with size and scale to create dynamic compositions that effectively communicate the hierarchy of information.


2. Color theory

color and focal point in visual hierarchy
Image credits: Domestika.

Let us now turn to principle number 2: the power of colors to shape our perception of the world around us cannot be overemphasized!

The use of color theory is a crucial aspect of design principles, as it guides you to create visual hierarchy and conveys the emotions of the audience.

Think of reds and oranges (as in the case of my Desircle brand) to create excitement and energy, or blues and greens to evoke a feeling of calm and tranquility.

And if you want to spice up the visual elements, you can enhance them with contrasting colors for an eye-catching effect (we will discuss this in principle 3).

But it’s not just about finding the right color; rather, a harmonious blend of colors is the key to a cohesive and visually appealing design.

Actionable tips

white space in visual hierarchy
Image credits: Domestika.

  • Choose a color palette that reflects the desired mood and message of your design.
  • Understand the meaning and psychology behind different colors to evoke specific emotions.
  • Create contrast and hierarchy by using colors with different saturations and intensities.
  • Use complementary colors to create visual interest and harmony in your actual design.
  • Experiment with different color combinations to find the most effective ones for your project.

Relevant examples

create depth colors in bad visual hierarchy
Image credits: Domestika.

This one you see above is an example of a graphic design of a UX/UI for Nike, where color dominates the composition.

This is a great example of how to convey a message through color, making the design impactful, and combining together the colors of the Nike shoe with the colors of the entire interface.

My personal experience

Obviously, color theory in design was a pivotal moment that transformed my creative process, in ways I could not even have imagined at first.

Knowing how different hues interact and evoke emotions allowed me to create designs with greater impact.

Experimenting with various color palettes became a key aspect of my design process as I learned how certain hues can convey moods and feelings.

But that’s not all, because delving into the importance of color psychology has also shown me how it can be used strategically to amplify the brand message and identity.

It’s simply amazing how something as simple as color can have such a profound impact on the design experience.


3. Contrast

contrast in visual hierarchy
Image credits: Domestika.

Now to principle 3: We have seen how creating a visual hierarchy is essential to designing impactful graphics, and contrast is one of the tools for par excellence.

By thoughtfully incorporating contrasting visual elements such as colors, sizes, shapes, f pattern, z patterns, or textures, you will guide the viewer’s eye and capture his or her attention.

But also remember that balance is key! Don’t go overboard with too many contrasting colors or your visual design will become chaotic for the human eye; likewise, if you have too few, it is easy for them to go unnoticed.

So, try using a big, bold title on a blank space background to create a clear contrast and establish importance, or use contrasting colors to distinguish sections and highlight key information.

Actionable tips

contrast of landing page in visual hierarchy
Image credits: Domestika.

  • Use contrasting colors to create a good visual hierarchy and notice elements.
  • Experiment with varying font sizes and weights to establish a clear hierarchy of information.
  • Incorporate contrasting shapes and patterns to add interest to visual information and break up the monotony.
  • Balance the light background and dark background within your design to create a sense of depth and dimension.
  • Play with a contrasting texture, or negative space, to create tactile and engaging visuals.

Relevant examples

leading lines in visual hierarchy
Image credits: Domestika.

In the image above, you can see that contrast is the main element of this design and the one that helps the most to bring out certain elements to which we want to give more importance.

It is not just about the boldest and largest typography, but a real contrast between the background, which in the first case is yellow, and the text, which is black.

Similarly, as you can see in the second case, even with the colors reversed, the contrast serves as an essential element in making the various design other elements stand out.

My personal experience

Thanks to contrast, I was able to redefine my creative process, making it possible for me to create my own unique style.

I recall with pleasure, for example, the many brochure designs and my attempts to emphasize key information given to me by writers.

Taking advantage of contrast, I incorporated bright colors and unique fonts, effectively focusing on vital details, and the message that needed to be conveyed.

The profound impact of contrast convinced me to implement it in all my compositions, combining it with unique shapes, textures, and dimensions.


4. Proximity

proximity in visual hierarchy
Image credits: Domestika.

Here we come to point number 4: proximity, or the secret hero of design! It’s about organizing elements based on their visual connections to create structure and harmony.

Try for a moment to think about a poster or a website: the way other elements are grouped together determines what we see and how we digest information.

In my own journey of website design, something I have recently specialized in, I have seen the power of proximity in enhancing the user experience.

By grouping related information together and giving individual elements clear visual boundaries, my designs are not only aesthetically pleasing but also convey information effectively.

Proximity gives structure to the designs, allowing viewers to quickly understand the relationships between different specific elements and navigate through the content flawlessly.

Actionable tips

white space and visual weight in visual hierarchy
Image credits: Domestika.

  • Group related elements together to create visual relationships.
  • Use consistent spacing and alignment to establish clear visual boundaries.
  • Place important elements closer to each other to emphasize their relationship.
  • Pay attention to negative space and ensure that it supports the overall composition.
  • Experiment with different layouts to find the most effective way to communicate hierarchy and organization through proximity.

Relevant examples

 z pattern in visual hierarchy
Image credits: Wonderlust.

When creating a website homepage, for example, it is good to establish visual hierarchy principles for a more effective and engaging user experience.

Place the logo and navigation menu together in the upper left corner, followed by the main title and call to action button in close proximity to each other, encouraging user interaction.

Corresponding images and content should be collected in their respective separate groups to enable faster navigation and better absorption of information.

My personal experience

As an experienced graphic designer, I can testify to the powerful impact of the proximity principle in creating visually appealing and effective designs.

By strategically organizing nearby elements, content can be united and simplified, allowing users to navigate between them seamlessly.

This principle is as valid and applicable for website layouts as it is for print advertisements and can make all the difference in terms of message clarity and impact.


5. Similarity

similarity in visual hierarchy
Image credits: Domestika.

So we come to the last principle, which is the principle of similarity – one of the most interesting design elements to experiment with!

Imagine being able to create a visually stunning and consistent design using the same color palette, font styles, or graphic elements.

When the elements are similar, it creates a sense of harmony and cohesion that helps viewers connect the dots and understand the big picture.

Not only does this add professionalism, but it also gives rise to an easily recognizable aesthetic that stands out from all others-as in the case of branding design.

Actionable tips

user interface in visual hierarchy
Image credits: Domestika.

  • Use a consistent color scheme throughout your design to create visual harmony.
  • Stick to a cohesive typography system by using the same fonts or variations of a single font family.
  • Employ consistent graphic elements, such as icons or illustrations, to maintain a unified visual language.
  • Ensure that elements with similar functions or meanings share visual similarities to enhance user understanding.
  • Create a sense of repetition by repeating shapes, patterns, or motifs throughout your design.

Relevant examples

f pattern in visual hierarchy
Image credits: Wandel Maier.

Again to follow up on the previous case of a task to design a website for a brand, let’s talk about how to create a unified and professional look with the principle of similarity.

By choosing a consistent style and format for all product images, such as angles, lighting, and editing techniques, you establish a sense of consistency throughout the project.

You can leverage this unity by using the same color scheme for all buttons and call-to-action elements, creating a visually identifiable and connected design.

My personal experience

Tied to the previous key principles, learning the principle of similarity in graphic design was a real game changer for me.

Creating harmony and visual consistency between different elements has made a huge difference in my designs; in fact, I recently put this principle into practice for one of my clients.

Adapting a consistent color palette and typography across all branding materials immediately brought the brand identity to life and made the materials stand out and be much more recognizable even at first glance.


6. PDF File (Free Download)

free pdf download in visual hierarchy
Image credits: Domestika.

And now it’s bonus time, completely free, thanks to Domestika! Principles of Visual Hierarchy is the definitive resource for anyone aspiring to master visual hierarchy techniques.

In this downloadable PDF, creator Katia has compiled a guide complete with real-world examples and practical insights that span more than 32 pages.

From mastering the power of scale and dimension to using color and contrast theory, this resource offers a deeper understanding of what makes designs compelling and impactful.

This valuable resource is a must for all designers, and it is more than just an e-book, as you can also take her online course, where Katia shares valuable experience in the field of visual hierarchy in design.


Attend Graphic Visualization

domestika course graphic visualization
Image credits: Domestika.

And if you enjoyed this article and want to learn more, take a deep dive into the art of presenting information in a simple yet compelling way using visual aids and infographics.

To truly captivate an audience, it is critical to understand how our minds process information. With this knowledge, we can design solutions that simplify complex ideas with stunning visuals.

So, I suggest you get into the Katya Kovalenko course, the graphic visualization guru who specializes in product articulation.

This Graphic Visualization course goes beyond the basics and delves into the principles of design and hierarchy for creating charts, graphs, diagrams, and more.


FAQs

What are the 5 elements of visual hierarchy?

The five key elements of the visual hierarchy are size and scale, color, contrast, proximity, and similarity. This blog post is the ultimate guide to good visual hierarchy principles.

What is an example of a visual hierarchy?

An example of visual hierarchy is a webpage where the headline is larger and bolder than the body text, drawing attention and creating a clear hierarchy of information.

How do you create a visual hierarchy?

You can create a visual hierarchy by using size, color, contrast, spacing, and typography to guide the viewer’s attention and prioritize information.

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Executive Summary

And here we come to the conclusion of this ultimate guide to visual hierarchy: incorporating the principles of visual hierarchy can transform your designs, guaranteed!

As we have seen, by taking advantage of size and scale, color theory, contrast, proximity, and similarity, you can capture your audience and communicate your message effectively.

Whether you are a novice designer or want to expand your creative horizons, embracing these principles will enable you to create meaningful and impactful designs. Happy creating!

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