Hierarchy has an important function. It serves to organize a project by giving its elements a certain degree of importance. For what purpose?
It is used to direct the recipient’s attention in a simple and discreet way to selected parts of a larger whole, and thus convey a message. Hierarchy makes it possible to create a design in which each element has its own order and its own “moment” when it reaches the recipient. All this takes place in a certain scheme, ensuring that the whole is coherent, harmonious, and legible.
Furthermore, hierarchy is one of the six design principles and goes hand in hand with:
Hierarchy is usually listed alongside these principles, but in fact they are all very closely interrelated and interdependent. Building hierarchy in a project is based on the efficient use of each of the above rules.
How to create a hierarchy in design?
This is a very important aspect of the whole, making it possible to achieve the desired hierarchy. If individual elements are consistently ordered in a certain way, e.g. from the largest to the smallest, the design will be clear. Moreover, the recipient will notice its repetitiveness and a certain scheme, and thanks to that, he or she will more quickly notice the elements deviating from the selected composition, e.g. those which stand out in terms of size or color against the background of other, coherent parts.
The elements of the whole may be arranged in relation to each other in a symmetrical, asymmetrical or radial manner. Each of these allows a certain piece of information to be exposed. In the case of symmetrical arrangement, the viewer’s attention is dispersed in parallel. It works well in projects where the hierarchy does not have to be very obvious, e.g. on leaflets informing about events sponsored by several different companies. The logos of the companies are arranged in one line, next to each other – this conveys the message that all the companies mentioned are equally important.
The asymmetric method works in the opposite way. It allows, first of all, to direct the attention to one part of the whole, and only then to the other.
Layout is very important and depends on what is being created. If we are dealing with a textual concept, the most important word or sentence should be at the top left, because we read from left to right. Why at the top? Because our eyes explore the world not only horizontally, but also vertically, from top to bottom.
When it comes to graphic compositions, images, logos, etc., we tend to focus on their central elements, so it is wise to place the most important element in the middle.
The degree of importance of individual elements can be emphasized by a particular layout, for example sockets, columns, trees, or pyramids. In this case, the most important information will be placed at the top, and less important information will be below.
The size of the elements in the design very clearly places them in a particular hierarchy in relation to each other. The larger the individual letters or images, the more likely it is that the recipient’s attention will be focused on them first. In this kind of an arrangement, smaller elements will be noticed last.
As we have already mentioned, the hierarchy in a project can be built up by highlighting some of theelements by means of their size or positioning. But there is more to it.
In order to attract the viewer’s attention, we can also emphasize an element by disturbing the harmony of the whole work, for example by using a different shape, form, or color. An example: a digit surrounded by geometric figures will immediately catch the eye. Just like a single red letter in a word written in black.
This concept has already been touched upon in previous discussions of design principles and visual hierarchy. What exactly is asymmetry, color difference and size if not a contrast? Exactly!
As we can see, most elements stand out mainly through contrasts. How else can we build discrepancy in a work? For example, by using opposites, such as: