Key Principles of Visual Hierarchy in UX Design

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UX design has become an incredibly important part of the digital sphere. Incredibly, we’re seeing more and more attention placed on how a user experiences a website or software program. Marketers are even considering UX design in their blogs, social media posts, YouTube videos and other digital media. It’s all about clearly conveying messages in a way that optimizes the user experience. This is where visual hierarchy comes in.

Understanding the Link Between Visual Hierarchy and UX Design

Visual hierarchy is a design process whereby the visual elements on a design are ranked in order of importance to the viewer. Various design principles are then implemented to ensure that the most important elements stand out to the viewer first. And that the design leads the viewer’s eye through the information from most important to the least essential. It’s easy to see how using the principles of visual hierarchy can seriously improve the UX of a website or software. The user can easily navigate through the information they’re viewing, and immediately see what they need to do or what they should read first. If a user doesn’t need to hunt for important information or how to use your product, they will have a much better experience the first time around and every time they use it again.

5 Key Design Principles for Visual Hierarchy

So, how do you apply visual hierarchy to your design? There are a number of design principles that you can deploy, either on their own or in conjunction with one another. Let’s take a look at some of the most commonly used:

Size and Scale

Sizing is one of the most important parts of any design work. The bigger text, an image, or other element is when compared to the rest of the elements within a design, the more people will focus on it when they view the design. When deciding on the scale of design elements, it’s best to work on a list of most important to least, so that you know how to balance the sizing. You don’t want to have too many items of the same size because then the viewer won’t know where to look first. You also don’t want to have one element so big that it’s impossible to fit in the rest without making the design look cramped.

Color and Contrast

Color can do the same thing as size in terms of creating a hierarchy of importance. However, this is only the case if the color is used correctly in terms of creating contrast. Too many different colors will compete for attention and the viewer will again not know where to look. If you have all elements the same color except for one, the viewer’s eye will immediately get drawn to the change in the pattern—the different color. It won’t matter where you place that element in the design, the viewer’s eye will always be drawn to it because of that contrast. This is why so many website menus have contrasting color buttons on their calls to action. A bright color or a primary color as a button will immediately draw the eye, and it will stand out as something different on your website. This is what you want people to notice because this is what you want people to do when they arrive on your site—contact you, sign up, subscribe, or follow another call to action (CTA).

Pulling Perspective

A 2D design can often look very flat, making it difficult to create distance and space on your website or software. By playing with perspective and focus, you can create the illusion of a 3D space and help to draw the viewer’s eye to where you want it to go. This is the same concept that filmmakers use when they rack focus from one character to another—showing the viewer that this is where they need to look now. In design, this is done by adding blurs to images in the background so they appear further away, or shadows to the text so that it looks like the text is above the rest of the design.

Z and F Patterns

Viewing patterns are how a person scans content subconsciously. We all do it without realizing it. The common patterns are either a Z or an F. For the Z patterns, the viewer starts at the top-left of a design and works across to the right, then diagonally down to the bottom-left and across to the right again. The F pattern is a bit more complex, but the viewer’s eye also starts in the top-left and scans across the top to the right. They then move down the left side of the page, scanning out to the right as they move downwards. Understanding how these subconscious moves can impact how a viewer sees your design can help you with where to place the most important elements. It’s often best to put the most important elements in that top row that the viewer will scan first because it’ll be less jarring.

Leaving Blank Space

Making sure you have breathing room in your design is as important as making sure that you have all the elements you need when designing a web page. White space or negative space should always be a conscious part of your design. You want to group elements together that help to tell the story or make the function of the design clearer. You group things together by leaving less white space between them and more white space around the group before placing in your other elements. This negative space balance helps to tell the viewer that they need to understand certain elements in conjunction with each other. It’s really common to put the text and the CTA button in a group together on a website and surround them with white space, making them all the more obvious. Giving users the best possible experience while using your product is essential. Utilizing these key principles of visual hierarchy makes them more likely to respond positively, and become repeat customers. Providing a great UX is the only way forward.


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