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GuidesProduct developmentHow visual hierarchy can help you create effective designs

How visual hierarchy can help you create effective designs

Last updated

6 May 2023

Reviewed by

Sophia Emifoniye

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Effective design communicates more than just the name and purpose of your company—it entices, captivates, and instructs your customers to engage with your brand. 

High-quality design is easy for your target audience to understand, and it ensures your brand stands out from your competitors. Plus, you don’t need to hire a top-level graphic designer!

No matter your experience with visual design, you can create beautiful and compelling designs by following visual hierarchy rules. This system explains how human brains process and understand visual information.

Implementing visual hierarchy into your product designs is one of the best ways to enhance clarity and flow while preventing your design from feeling overwhelming, scattered, and hard to follow.

If your team is updating or refreshing your brand’s website, product, or branding design, this article is made for you. 

We’ll show you how to use visual hierarchy to create an effective design. You’ll also see inspirational examples of high-quality designs from well-known companies.

It’s time to take the guesswork out of design and get the results your company is looking for.

Let’s get into it!

What is visual hierarchy?

Visual hierarchy is a list of rules that follow how the human brain processes visual information. Using these principles to create your design will enhance clarity and visual flow.

Designs that don’t follow a visual hierarchy template are at a higher risk of being confusing and cluttered. This type of design is unlikely to successfully reach your target audience, impacting sales, customer satisfaction, and overall brand sentiment. 

Your designs need visual flow to be effective

Whether you’re designing a new layout for your website or updating your product packaging, visual flow is essential for successfully conveying your brand message.

Your team needs to be intentional about where you place your company’s logo, text, visuals, and calls to action. 

Your design will differ greatly depending on the medium you’re working with. This means you’ll have to consider the size of each element, the color scheme, and the amount of information.

No matter the project, your team should consider the following three questions during the early design phase to get the best possible results:

Where will your customer’s eyes go first? 

This area is the focal point, so it should include the most important information. Big text or bright images in this area can draw your customer’s attention to learn more about your brand, product, or service.

Where will their eyes go next?

Your team should have an idea of the viewing patterns your customers are likely to use when looking at your design. Understanding these patterns ensures you put essential information along the path they’re most likely to take as they skim the content.

Where will their eyes look as they finish?

Finally, the last point your customer views on your design should have a powerful call to action (CTA) to compel them to purchase or engage with your brand. This is a great way to close the loop on your design communication and direct your customers to take action.

Answering these questions reduces the risk of confusion. Knowing what you’d like to include in each section is also helpful.

To master flow for your next design refresh, we recommend using the following two visual information patterns as blueprints for success:

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How your customers process visual information

English speakers and readers read and write from top to bottom, left to right. Because of this predictable pattern, our brains are used to decoding and understanding print and digital media. This is something that high-quality visual design takes into account.

Despite this, good visual design does not front-load information at the top left side of the page. Instead, excellent design involves two primary patterns:

The Z pattern

Popular for designs with minimal text, this pattern tracks the eye across the design in the shape of the letter Z. When looking at a design with minimal text, the reader is likely to follow the following pattern:

  • Starting in the top left, the reader’s eye first goes straight over to the right side

  • Next, they scan the middle, moving back toward the left side on the bottom diagonally

  • Finally, they move to the bottom right, looking for any final pieces of information

The F pattern

For designs that are text-dense, the F pattern is the most effective. Following the shape of the letter F, readers viewing designs that are content-dense are more likely to:

  • Start reading in the top left, then quickly move horizontally to the top right of the page

  • Next, they will jump back to the left side, moving down the page to look for short and easy-to-understand sentences or headlines (like the second prong of the letter “f”)

  • Finally, they end at the bottom of the page after skimming the majority of the text

With a good understanding of these visual patterns, your team can create compelling ads that grab your customer’s eye and effectively convey the most crucial information.

How to use visual hierarchy in your upcoming designs

Now we understand the importance of visual hierarchy in design, let’s explore how to master it. 

Leading industry designers use these five tricks to establish flow and clarity in their designs:

Use size to your advantage

Large and easily identifiable visuals draw attention, so why not use this to your advantage in your product advertising?

Simple, bold, and large imagery often wins out over quirky and overcrowded design. Enhancing the key visual elements' size, dimensions, and scale helps your audience immediately understand what they’re looking at. 

Top brands use this tried and true technique to enhance their design’s visual hierarchy. Take a look at how Oreo uses size to create a clear and compelling ad:

Enlarging and centering the Oreo cookie means it’s clear what this ad is promoting. Paired with simple and short text, this is a slam-dunk on quick, effective marketing.

Of course, it is possible to make a visual too large, drawing away from the overall flow of your design. With this in mind, we recommend playing around with size ratios and dimensions until you land on a design that clearly represents your brand.

Choose color and contrast wisely

The color, contrast, and overall design theme convey lots of context and emotion to your viewers.

You could add an intentional pop of color to a black-and-white design or go wild with a bright, eye-catching color palette. Whichever you opt for, color and contrast play an essential role in creating an increased sense of design visual hierarchy.

Apple ads use simple, striking designs for their marketing strategy, with the perfect balance of color and contrast to make the products pop:

[Insert image of Apple ad]

With their products on a simple black or white backdrop, Apple ads use color and contrast to convey an elevated level of precision, innovation, and clarity. 

These ads are instantly recognizable and understandable, which has helped the brand become one of the most popular companies worldwide.

Typography has a hierarchy, too

Like this article, headers and subheads are incredibly helpful in creating an effective design.

To follow an effective typography hierarchy, the most important takeaway of your design should be in the largest font on the page, like an H1 header. 

All other less important text is in smaller subheads, similar to H2 and H3 headers. This creates a clear visual flow that draws attention to the key areas of your design.

Known for its clear and compelling design, Calendly uses typography hierarchy in its website design to highlight its core consumer benefits. They also provide additional information without clutter:

[Insert image of Calendly webpage]

This simple trick is a must-use when creating or refreshing the design of text-heavy mediums like webpages, blog articles, or wordy advertisements.

Select the right font

The font you use in your design significantly affects its tone, especially if you plan on mixing and matching font options.

Choosing a font significantly impacts the message your design transmits to your target audience. Ads with blocky, thick fonts command attention, while thin, flowy fonts are subtle and artistic. Your team should use this information to pick the right font for your needs.

Showing the power of mixing and matching fonts, the New York Times highlights the important message of its design while staying true to its original branding:

[Insert image of NYT ad]

As a well-known news journal, the New York Times sticks to the old-timey, historic-feeling font for its name and logo while using a clear, blocky font for ad content. This ensures the branding is easy to detect and the ad content is easy to read and understand.

Ensure your spacing conveys organization and clarity

Adding the right amount of space between design elements prevents crowding and confusion.

Spacing adds flow and organization to your design. Following visual hierarchy patterns means your design is more likely to make sense to your target audience at a glance.

A simple, effective design that uses spacing and structure to clearly communicate its message is the well-known Got Milk? ads from the California Milk Processors Board:

[Insert image of Got Milk? Ad]

Well-spaced ad elements make this design easy to read, clear, and compelling. We highly recommend playing around with spacing as a great way to add visual hierarchy and clarity.

Test the effectiveness of your design with customer insights

Now that you have a few tricks up your sleeve for creating a more compelling design, how do you know if your target audience is responding well to your changes?

Customer feedback is an incredibly valuable tool throughout the design refresh process. A solid understanding of your customer’s opinions on your current brand design is an excellent place to start and can give you a strong insight into possible areas of improvement.

Customer insight software like Dovetail can help your team confidently begin the design refresh process, knowing your changes align with your audience’s values and desires.

With this helpful guide, we hope you can take your product design to the next level, enhancing your customer’s experiences and better communicating your brand’s value and benefits.

Happy designing!

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