Using Visual Hierarchy to Deliver Exceptional Visual Communications

Exceptional Visual Communications Don't Happen by Chance

At RainMaker Signs our business is laser focused on creating effective visual communications for our clients.  Those visual communications come in many forms including, signs of all types, displays, wall murals and vehicle wraps.  Independent of form, all visual communications have one thing in common, they are designed to gain attention and communicate “something”.

Establish Clear Communication Goals

That “something” varies with each and every type of project.  It depends on a variety of factors, but most importantly it depends on a clear communication objective or goal. 

The best way to think about a communication objective is to ask yourself – “What is the one big idea I want my target audience to take away?”   It could be many things, including:

I’m in the right place

  • I need to go this way to get to my destination

  • This is what I’m looking for

  • Brand or Company X offers Y

  • I can get Y from company X

  • These are the rules here

  • If I choose brand Y, I get X

  • I must act now

  • X is for me

  • I belong here

I know.   This may feel abstract, but doesn’t it get to the heart of why you are choosing to communicate in the first place?   Your key message (the words or symbols), secondary information, location, size, layout, colors, fonts, images are details that can be arranged and organized in a way that will help you achieve your primary communication goal.

Attention Needs to Be Earned

Once your communication goal is clear, it is possible to begin arranging design elements to deliver on the goal.  A visual hierarchy helps you do that.

People are usually only interested in attending to something long enough to get the main idea and determine if it is relevant to them.  At that point they may decide, often subconsciously, to attend more fully to the sign or graphic or move on.  This scanning process is super important for us to function in the world.  Imagine if we gave every sign or graphic we encountered our undivided attention – we would step into a mall or store and be paralyzed with the cacophony of information.  (It’s possible we wouldn’t even make it to the mall from the parking lot if we give every directional sign our full attention.) 

So the key is to understand how people scan information and decide if they should give it more of their attention.  Recognizing and managing a visual hierarchy can help you earn the attention of your intended audience.

What is Visual Hierarchy?

According to Wikipedia Visual hierarchy “refers to the arrangement or presentation of elements in a way that implies importance.  In other words, visual hierarchy influences the order in which the human eye perceives what it sees.”

You want to consider how much “weight” you give to each individual element.  More visual weight is seen as more important.  Less visual weight is seen as less important.   Below are some design elements that can carry more or less weight in a design hierarchy depending on how they are used and arranged:

  • Images of humans, sex and food often carry the greatest weight as these are primary things humans attend to as they scan their environment

  • Size - larger elements generally carry more weight, but smaller elements in isolation can too

  • Color – some colors are perceived as weighing more than others. Red seems to be heaviest while yellow is generally deemed to be lightest.

  • Value – In web design, a darker object will have more weight than a lighter object.  In large format graphics viewed from a distance, light objects or text on a dark ground has more weight.

  • White space – Positive space weighs more than negative space or white space

  • Elements in Isolation – Logos, or images that stand apart from the rest of the design have significant weight independent of their size

How to Manage Visual Hierarchy to Achieve Communication Goals

Whether you are thinking about your vehicle wrap design or your trade show display it is easiest to rank your information and design elements before laying out your design. Here are some simple steps to get started creating a effective communication with a visual hierarchy:

1)      Create a collection of all your design elements and rank them according to importance.  For a vehicle wrap, your collection might look something like this:

  • Logo

  • Primary message

  • Brand colors

  • Images

  • Tag lines

  • Services/Products/Benefits

  • URLS & Phone numbers

2)      Look for broad designs cues from the logo including colors and shapes.  This helps you simultaneously simplify a design while creating secondary visual interest.  woot! woot!

3)      Assign your text in clean spaces – ideally light text over dark backgrounds or dark text over light back grounds to maximize legibility

4)      Keep overall color scheme simple, but interesting.  Adding more colors can distract from the primary message

5)      Visually layout your design elements and re-size and rearrange until they match the desired hierarchy

6)      Important:  Resist the temptation to give everything equal emphasis or weight.  A hierarchy by definition is a forced ranking.  Remember, people will not care what your phone number is if they do not understand your business and why it is relevant to them.  Earn their attention with the big idea and then deliver more details.

Other Great Resources

At RainMaker Signs we're excited by what visual communications can do to help you grow your business or create a great experience for your customer.  We really believe great visual communications make great things happen.  

If you've got a communication goal, whether it is getting your business noticed with vehicle graphics, merchandising signage to tell people about your hot new items, or directional signage that helps people find their way and gives them confidence in your space - Give us a call at 425-861-7446 or email 

About RainMaker Signs

Great visual communications make great things happen! Our mission is to help our clients to effectively communicate their brand with event displays, banners, and other graphics.

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