Infographic: How to Design Your Layouts for Maximum Effectiveness
Whether you’re a designer, a marketing professional, or just someone who’s run their own business for a while—you’ve almost certainly heard the phrase “Visual Hierarchy” before. Most of us have some understanding that the way a website or a poster is designed has an effect on how we read and consume the information contained on it. But one of the benefits of hiring an effective, experienced designer is to help you make sure that your creative is easy to digest, visually—not just pretty.
In this guide, we’ll bring you a handful of principles on what makes great, visually consistent design—all through tips brought to you by the world-class creative team at iStock. And because this is a visual medium, we’ll pair each of our tips with a handy little graphic to show you what we mean. Then, you can head over to iStock to pick your graphics, and lay them out with ease.
First, Determine What’s Important
It may sound obvious, but before you put pen to paper (or stylus to tablet), you really need to assess what story you’d like to tell with the design piece. Is it a flier for an event? If so, you’ll want the date, time, and logistics to come forward. Is it a simple sales page? You’ll want your key expertise and/or product to be the first bit of information a potential customer sees.
Take the simple graphic below, for instance. It shows three icons that all look exactly the same. But you’ll see that one is bigger than the other two and placed in the middle. These two techniques draw your eye to one specific thing—and you know immediately that the purpose of this graphic is to get you to look at that middle graphic.
Size Up Your Message
One of the easiest concepts to wrap your head around is: bigger = important. We’ve all seen this one on posters and websites, where the main headline is written in a much larger font than the rest of the words on the page. But, size can actually change the game in a lot of different ways.
Take the graphic below, for instance—it’s clear that one message is most important, but there’s more to the story. You’ll see that the other two messages have their own hierarchy, and even though one of them appears above the other on the page, it’s actually less important. We’ve denoted this by adjusting the font sizes.
When you place a supporting line above a main headline but make it smaller, it’s often called an “eyebrow.” This is a great way to free up space further down the page and keep layouts interesting without losing the main headline’s emphasis.
Placement Is Key
The other layout principle most professionals are familiar with is the concept that where you place a visual is almost as important as how big it is. While we’ve illustrated that size can help to freshen up the usual order of text, it’s important to think of the physical space of a page as something that’s a little more three-dimensional than that.
Guiding the eye, for instance, is really important. Many cultures around the world are used to reading left to right and top to bottom. But, that comes from our history with books and printed pages. When you think about the placement of certain information on a webpage, that can be different. For instance, a small series of words at the top of a webpage is often seen as a navigation bar—thanks to our modern familiarity with computer screens.
Take this graphic below, for instance. There are no words that literally tell you that the small series of phrases along the top are navigation buttons. But their placement and the context of the page make it obvious that if you click them, you’ll be taken to a page about each respective animal.
Choose Your Orientation Wisely
Taking the above principle into account, physical orientation of a design’s layout can have a surprisingly strong emotional effect on the person viewing the page. Think about it like printing a page in portrait versus landscape orientation. Our natural predisposition to wide, landscape visuals makes us calmer, whereas vertically oriented pieces can galvanize and create urgency. In the graphic below, you’ll see that the same sentence reads more smoothly and evenly in one way, and more dramatically when oriented vertically.
Use Contrast to Your Advantage
Not everything is as black and white as text on a page—sometimes you’ll want to prepare a design that features complex colors, graphics, and information. When layout and size do not give you the pop or story that you need, turning to contrast can really help distinguish things. That is, pairing a background color with a foreground color that really stands out.
Take a look at the series of shapes below. They’re all the same size, and none of them are positioned particularly in a way that draws your eye to any single one. But your eye is drawn to one in particular—the triangle toward the bottom is the one that stands out the most from the background from a contrast perspective. This will help you shift the narrative of a page, and draw a reader’s eye away from the habit they may have of reading from top to bottom.
Color Your Audience Impressed
Color and shading entails more than just providing contrast. What color you use has a strong effect on how someone views your design. Choosing reds and oranges can pull a viewer’s eye very strongly thanks to our psychological sense of urgency with these colors. Softer, calmer blues and purples can, instead, create a calming undertone.
In the graphic below, you’ll see that a sentence being written with a blue accent word has a much different feeling than that same sentence with a red accent word.
Hierarchy Expands When Working on Animated Visuals
We’ve been speaking exclusively about static, two-dimensional design placements—but what happens to visual hierarchy when you introduce the third dimension of time? Bringing an animated visual into an otherwise static page can do a lot for the hierarchy, and it can often completely supersede many of the principles above. Take the graphic below, where there’s one big, bright headline in the middle of the page, but your eye is drawn very effectively to the moving sub-header below it.
Tie It All Together With Patterns To Support Your Narrative
The important part about design layout is to “train” your audience. Most brands today have what’s called a design style guide. This design system will include fonts, sizes, colors, and icons that should remain consistent throughout all design materials. That way, your audience knows what to expect just by seeing consistent layout choices.
Take this graphic below outlining a schedule for an upcoming week of events. You’ll see that the dates/times are always the same (both size and color-wise), that the name of the event has the most contrast against the background, and that the brightly colored icon is only shown when the event is free:
Now that you’ve got a whole spread of design and layout techniques in your toolbox, head over to iStock to find some visuals to bring your brand to life. Go for icon packs to add some accents, check out abstract textures to create calming website backgrounds, and check out the different subscription plans available to get all the assets you need on your budget.