Visual hierarchy

What is Visual Hierarchy?

The principle of visual hierarchy is the organisation of visual elements to convey a sense of relative importance. Graphic designers organise elements like menu icons to help users quickly grasp what they represent. In order to influence users’ perceptions and lead them to take the desired actions, designers must arrange elements in a logical and strategic manner.

The presentation of the experience is managed by visual hierarchy. If it’s unclear where you should focus your attention on a page, the design probably lacks a clear visual hierarchy.

Building Blocks of Visual Hierarchy

To emphasise the significance of various elements on a page or screen, designers employ the hierarchy principle, which involves manipulating the following visual elements:

  • Users are more likely to take notice of something if it is a larger size.
  • Color – Eyes are naturally drawn to vibrant hues rather than more subdued tones.
  • Strong colour contrasts make for more arresting designs.
  • Disorganized content stands out more than similar content that is properly aligned.
  • Repetition – Utilizing the same design elements multiple times may indicate that the content is connected.
  • Similarity between things that are close together in space is attributed to the principle of proximity.
  • Whitespace – Having more empty space around elements makes the ones you want to highlight stand out more.
  • Contrast between flat and textured backgrounds Richer textures stand out more.

Users have expectations, especially in regards to the visual appearance of a user interface (UI), and an effective visual hierarchy helps inform, impress, and persuade these users. Therefore, it is crucial for the success of a website, app, or related product to structure its pages or screens to minimise users’ uncertainty, demonstrate maximum empathy with them, and give them something pleasant to view.

Teo Yu Siang and the Interaction Design Foundation are the authors and owners of all rights to this work. License and terms for use of copied material: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Hierarchy can be signalled with the use of font size and style.

How to Craft a Strong Visual Hierarchy

An effective visual hierarchy provides users with the necessary visual cues to navigate to and use the features of a page or screen. The best way to learn about your users is through user research, but here are some high-level characteristics:

  • Within milliseconds of seeing an interface, users form an instantaneous opinion about whether or not to stick around.

  • There are culturally determined patterns of eye movement that users employ when reading. Left-to-right-reading The Western world typically uses the F- and Z-patterns. Therefore, a hierarchy can be created to either:

  • Reinforce these natural patterns and guide users along a cleverly constructed path to the desired goal; or.


  • Inverting these norms can draw attention to a specific element for the user.
    Users would rather be able to scan than read and memorise, as recognition is much easier than recall.

By keeping these in mind, you’ll have a better idea of what information to prioritise for display to users as they pursue goals in their unique settings. Then, as users switch between tasks, you can pick and scale elements to make the most crucial information immediately apparent. The following are particularly important considerations:

  • According to Gestalt theory – Such items are designed with the human eye in mind. Create trust in your brand by using them to help users organise content, focus on what’s most important on each page, and more.
  • Consistency -User-friendly design relies heavily on the use of familiar elements such as icons, menu structure, colour scheme, etc.
  • Main attraction – Highlight crucial information by placing it front and centre in your user interface.
  • For minimalist designs that are at once calming to the eye and immediately draw it to the information that matters most, white space is essential.
  • Typography — Present three tiers of text for desktop-accessed screens, but only two tiers (with the middle tier omitted) for mobile:
  • The details of mobile UX design: making elements stand out and easy to navigate.
  • Typography and design—While fancy fonts may be appropriate for certain fields, users may be put off by effects like embossing and fading in and out of colour.
  1. Similarly to a newspaper’s headline, a page or screen’s header should highlight the most important information for the reader. The first couple of words of a header should sum up what the content below it is about.
  2. Subsequent – Make it easier for readers to scan and move around in the content by including things like subheaders.
  3. In the tertiary level, which is the main body, the font size is reduced slightly while still being easily legible.

Headers should be three times as large as the body text, according to standard design guidelines.

Our “About” page is an excellent example of how to use white space to create a clear hierarchy of elements.

Things to Watch regarding Visual Hierarchy

Here are some important things to keep in mind when designing a user-friendly visual hierarchy:

  • The details of mobile UX design: making elements stand out and easy to navigate.
  • Typography and design—While fancy fonts may be appropriate for certain fields, users may be put off by effects like embossing and fading in and out of colour.
  • Knowing what’s most important to your audience is essential because it’s counterproductive to try to get them to focus on everything on the screen. At the same time, you must be aware of which features users must prioritise (e.g., dials on some dashboards).
  • Keep in mind, throughout the user’s experience, the problem-solving function of each page or screen. Customer journey maps, for instance, are excellent tools for keeping in mind the timing and significance of various factors. It’s likely that as you rank the importance of the various elements on each screen, you’ll find some that can be removed.

Keep in mind that the visual hierarchy of your design provides the framework for arranging carefully selected elements that need to look and work best together, allowing users to have seamless experiences and forget they’re interacting with a medium.

All of the images in the centre of the page are of equal size on Experience Dynamics’s well-designed site.

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