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Graphic Design Principles: Hierarchy Tops the List

An untrained individual can get lucky and produce a beautiful design, but doing so repeatedly—and often on the tight deadlines that graphic designers confront—is best accomplished by relying on the key basic graphic design principles. Alignment, hierarchy, contrast, repetition, proximity, balance, color, and space provide the foundation upon which a graphic designer can experiment and build. There is a strong case to be made, however, that the most important of these principles is hierarchy. Hierarchy is, after all, the principle that helps users navigate a design quickly and highlights the most important elements of your message. When a graphic designer prioritizes hierarchy, they are essentially prioritizing content over artistic vision. Designers are forced to think about a client’s goals and message before the creative juices start flowing.

Hierarchy in design is all about getting attention and focusing the eye on what is most important. To do so, a designer needs to leverage predictable tendencies in how we process information, like understanding that most of us read from left to right and scan pages in an F- or a Z-shaped pattern. Designers can also manufacture interest using different font sizes, weights, or color, to draw the eye to key points to entice the viewer to take action.  

Click on this button. Focus on this image. The best designs use the principle of hierarchy to affect the viewer subconsciously, making the graphic designer equal parts artist and manipulator. The manipulative aspect of graphic design is a fact that should be embraced by design students because doing so will make their designs more effective, and graphic designers who do so will quickly come to realize that the principle of hierarchy is the most efficient tool in their design toolbox to achieve this goal.

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