5 Principles of Effective Visual Hierarchy

Just as there are tiers of importance in the Royal family, there is also a ladder of significance in the visual process.

Hierarchy applies order to your designs, and makes sure the most important elements are seen first.

When you’re working with multiple graphic elements such as fonts, images, colors and shapes or icons – applying hierarchy is a vital skill to get the message of your design across clearly and succinctly.

Here we explore five principles of effective visual hierarchy. Eager to apply these tips to your designs? Try the interactive tutorial at the end of this article.

01. Order your title, subtitle and body copy by size

Order your title, subtitle and body copy by size

These elements are the three musketeers of the typographic party. From largest to smallest, these content types should be read in a naturally progressive order.

Your title is the first thing that your viewer will notice, so make sure it stands out. This can be done by making sure it’s dominant in size, and using a strong eye-catching font. The subtitle should support your title at a relatively smaller type size.

Body copy is the smallest and should be clear and easy to read. Avoid using elaborate script fonts or uppercase text in this setting as it forces strain on the reader’s eye and makes the overall text much harder to read.

02. Increase the size of icons to reflect their importance

Increase the size of icons to reflect their importance

Remember to keep the most important objects the largest. When the size of elements is increased it will reflect visual importance

Increase the size of icons so they behave as a ‘call to action’. The more relevant the icon, the better it will function.

03. Use color as a visual highlight

Use color as a visual highlight

Color not only evokes feelings but also creates a level of distinction between what is important and what is not.

Applying a bright, bold color to a significant feature will highlight and draw the eye to it, making it a focal component within your design.

In this example, a color picker tool has been used to match the text color of the word ‘Sunshine’ with the color of the vibrant yellow flower in the background image. Notice how this makes it jump off the page and makes it a dominant feature of the design.

04. Mix up your font styles

Experiment with font styles

Most fonts come in different styles, for example bold and italic, which can be especially useful when creating hierarchy within your designs.

Words that deserve a special note, like ‘sale’ or ‘attention’, are great to treat with different font styles.

05. Use grids to order your images

Use grids to order your images

Using grids for hierarchy is an excellent way to showcase imagery in order of importance, or to create a visual narrative. You can do this by placing imagery that is more important in the larger placeholder and placing less significant photos in secondary photo holders.

Remember to achieve visual consistency by applying the same photo filter code to all your photos, either by using our presets or by creating your own using the advanced sliders.

Hierarchy can help you create order in your designs by making sure the most important elements are seen first. Put these skills into practice – test your new knowledge by completing the interactive tutorial below!

Poppie is passionate about helping people become better designers. As Canva’s Senior Graphic Designer, she’s responsible for many of Canva’s amazing graphics including the daily design tips on Canva’s social, runs educational webinars and workshops and recently authored a book – How to Create a Memorable Brand that Catches On. Got a design question? Ask her on Twitter @poppiepack.