Main Principles of Visual Hierarchy in Design and Why It Is Important

upqode | Aug 10th, 2022

Have you ever thought of how to arrange the design structure?

How do designers decide which elements to emphasize and which to make more subtle?

Well, in the design process that goes into creating any digital or print design, the designer has to decide which element deserves to be prominent and which element is best kept subtle. 

This order of design elements is called visual hierarchy. And in today’s article, we’re going to discuss the main principles of visual hierarchy in design and why it’s important to follow them.

Let’s start!

The Principles Of Visual Hierarchy

In general, seven factors determine where a certain design element ends up on the final product’s visual hierarchy.

  • Size
  • Color
  • Density
  • Contrast
  • Alignment
  • Repetition
  • Fonts and styling

The designer or team of designers has more or less a free hand when it comes to modifying each of these variables for the design project. Talented or experienced designers develop a sense of where to place an element in the visual hierarchy, judging by its informative role on the page.

On the other hand, good designers are also expected to be able to look at their products from the perspective of internet users. They experiment to learn which elements demand visual attention and what makes them appealing to the typical viewers’ eye.

The User Experience (UX) aspect of web design heavily depends on the designers’ ability to find the sweet spot where information delivery coincides with visual hierarchy. In any design project, the goal is to create space for clear information delivery, an appeal to the consumer, and minimal distraction.

visual hierarchy - Adobe Stock 
Source: Adobe Stock 

Elements Of Visual Hierarchy In Design


Enlarging an object to draw attention to it can easily and confidently be called one of the oldest tricks in the book, if not the absolute oldest. Since it works so well, UI/UX designers don’t have any reasons not to incorporate it into their work and force their viewers’ brains to deem some elements more important than others. 

Making all design elements the same size takes a heavy toll on the product’s visual hierarchy, and it looks too formal or simply too boring. 

visual hierarchy - Adobe Stock 
Source: Adobe Stock 

Color and Contrast

Colors can make your design catchier and set the viewers’ general expectations and mood, but that’s not all. Where the general mood of a page is dim, pastel colors, or even greyscale, an intense black or otherwise colored object immediately takes up the foreground. It is automatically placed higher on the visual hierarchy.

Adobe Stock 
Source: Adobe Stock 

On the other hand, where contrast is too stark, elements of your design may lose cohesion and be perceived as grouped or even scattered by the viewers. Using this to their advantage, a UI designer can color some items with similar shades to force the viewer to associate them and see them as a group.


Positioning them close together is a surefire method for viewers’ brains to associate certain design elements with each other. Focal points of information should be close to all their derivatives, and secondary elements or the visual hierarchy suffer incoherence. 

Captions should huddle close to images, concept maps should surround the central concept, and comparative infographics should not stray too far.

Adobe Stock
Source: Adobe Stock 


Eye tracking studies have revealed that almost all modern humans read left to right and top to bottom. This is probably because of the orthography of the most popular languages on earth. Any reader will start on the top left corner, lock on a horizontal line of text, and follow it left to right until it ends. 

At this point, the focus returns to the left margin of the page and descends to the next horizontal line. This pattern is called the ‘F-Pattern’ since the eye movements are similar to the outline of the letter F.

Adobe Stock 
Source: Adobe Stock 

Good knowledge of visual hierarchy helps align your text and images with underlying the viewers’ F-Pattern, delivering information and drawing them in in a charming manner. Text or images positioned diagonally with the margins of the page are proven to be more attractive to all onlooking eyes.


Repeated colors, styles, symbolism, and fonts can all serve as yet more ways to convince an observer that one thing is associated with another. This helps produce a cohesive design that allows communication between the author and the viewer.

For example, using the same font, color, and underlining for page headings helps the viewers identify page headings with ease. Using the same key symbol for key points on multiple pages tells readers that the following information is of equal significance on each page, i.e., stands equally high on the visual hierarchy.

Fonts and styling

Establishing a visual hierarchy is a mix of size and color tactics. Concise sentences made to deliver important information immediately, typed in big fonts make the best headings and titles. Smaller, longer sentences can serve as a second-step introduction. Even smaller font invites the user to consume all the details of the topic, making the body of the text.

Adobe Stock
Source: Adobe Stock 

When designing for flair more than content, as in the case of advertisements or posters, even individual words may have varying typefaces. Different colors, weight, spacing, and fonts can make a particular word stand out. A creative designer can occasionally even accommodate the brand logo into their headline.

Why Visual Hierarchy Matters

Digital marketing is the future. Graphic design is no longer just a piece of digital art. It is everywhere: websites, social media, and more. Brands want to stand out with unique branding that slaps.

Industries are going online. Every brand wants to create a unique identity and an immaculate online presence that speaks its personality. This creates a high demand for unique designs that are not just impressive but also functional.

There is a lot that designers have to consider while creating designs for the internet. One of these factors is User Experience. 

Apart from being visually pleasing, an online design should be functional in a way that guides users through the copy. It should effectively communicate the brand’s message without causing cognitive overload. It should keep the visitor hooked till the end and prompt them to press the “Buy” button. It’s the usability that makes online designs different from those of printed pieces as well as billboards.

Adobe Stock 
Source: Adobe Stock 

Usability matters when it comes to online designs. It is the user’s collective experience when interacting with the different elements of the webpage or an app. A good UX plays an important role in keeping the website visitors coming back. 

The thing about User Experience is that it drastically influences the users’ perception of your offerings or the brand. This creates the need for highly optimized website and app pages. Designers can create intriguing designs by introducing the principles of visual hierarchy into their design process. 

Ways to Use Visual Hierarchy in Graphic Design

The basics of visual hierarchy include intentionally placing visually striking objects, subtle hues, and white space. These principles are the foundation of every design project

Following are the ways in which visual hierarchy improves various forms of graphic design.


Typography completes a design. The placement, font, color, size, emphasis, and text capitalization impact the media’s usability. It also drastically influences the readability of the webpage or app interface.

The creative use of visual hierarchy principles adds more readability to the design. It makes it more functional by emphasizing important words. The effective placement of text guides the readers on how to comprehend a design piece. It also ensures that the readers understand the message the design wants to communicate at a glance.


Designers make complex facts and figures more digestible by organizing them into infographics. This technique makes them interesting to look at and easy to comprehend. Displaying information in diagrams, charts, and tables makes consuming it easier.

Visual hierarchy principles also apply here as oversimplifying information may negatively impact the users’ experience. You must remember that your audience may not be familiar with niche symbols.

Presenting information in the form of infographics means the use of fewer words. This calls for a design that highlights the facts and figures and makes them stand out. 

Designers use various techniques to make a piece of information stand out. A slight tweak of colors can dramatically improve the functionality of the design. Viewers will immediately understand what has been said if heterochromatic colors are used to display symbols. You can also create emphasis by using a contrast of colors to draw the viewer’s attention.

Adobe Stock
Source: Adobe Stock 

Web Design

User Interface is a crucial element of web design. A good web design allows visitors to find their way around. On the other hand, poor UI will cause the visitors to leave immediately and never come back.

You can simplify the user interface by applying principles of visual hierarchy. Effective colors, patterns, and contrast make it easier for the users to navigate a website.

You can understand the difference between good and bad visual hierarchy with the following example.

visual hierarchy - Adobe Stock 
Source: Adobe Stock 

A good user interface is the key to conversion. You can create a seamless website navigation experience by using a visual hierarchy that satisfies users’ intent, be it purchasing a product, researching, or subscribing to a service.


We are surrounded by advertisements all the time, but only a few catch our eyes. The best ads are those that leave a long-lasting impression on the readers.

Applying principles of visual hierarchy to an ad doesn’t just make it impressive but also memorable. Effective placement of images, text, patterns, colors, and contrast can help create striking ads that communicate brands’ messages at a glance.

Visual hierarchy is instrumental in how the audience perceives an ad design. Here is an example.

image of beer - Adobe Stock
Source: Adobe Stock 

Printed Materials

The principles of the visual hierarchy are not just for digital images. Printed material designed on the visual hierarchy principles can inform and capture the audience’s attention. Applying these principles to the printed material makes them more impactful.

visual hierarchy - Adobe Stock 
Source: Adobe Stock 

Printed materials such as business cards, posters, and magazines are mainly designed to convey information to the target audience. They should be prepared to allow readers to identify important information immediately. For example, a business card should clearly display important information such as the name, the address, website, and links to social media.

Things to Watch regarding Visual Hierarchy

Designers should consider the following factors while optimizing online designs for their users.

Specifics of Mobile UX design 

Designers should keep mobile UX design specifics in mind while creating designs for the internet. They should ensure that their designs are easy to navigate, even on smaller screens.

Niche and Typography
The typography and style in an online design should match the niche it is created for. Fonts that work for one industry may be inappropriate and distracting for another.
Users’ priorities 

Designers should always consider users’ priorities while creating a web or app design. They should display the information in a way that satisfies users’ intent.

The purpose of the design 

While creating a digital design, such as a webpage or app interface, designers should keep the page’s purpose in mind. No design element should overshadow the problem-solving function of the user interaction. It’s better to leave out superfluous elements that affect the usability of a design.

Closing thoughts

The field of design is always falling tantalizingly short of truly pushing the boundaries of digital media. New screen sizes, operating systems, color and motion capabilities, and interaction modes are launched every day. Any of the variables in determining visual hierarchy may change in the future. UI and web designers, in general, will have to adapt to all changes.

But understanding the theoretical angle is important for designers and their clients. Experimenting with the principles of visual hierarchy opens up millions of possibilities. 

After all, the visual order gets most of the credit for keeping artistic design lucrative for the designers and their employers and pleasurable for the consumers.

Filed under: Web Design

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