Hierarchy in Design – How to Make Your Message Clear

We graphic designers use hierarchy in our work to direct a reader’s eyes. Marketing collateral should not be like a maze, where readers are on a journey to figure out what to read next. Recipients may trash a piece rather than devote time to deciphering it. So, designers use the rules of hierarchy to make the text into a simple map that easily guides readers through the piece.

hi•er•ar•chy (noun) – A group of people or things arranged in order or rank.

There is a simple system that can be used for good typographical hierarchy. With most designs, there’s a headline, subheader and body copy. Usually the headline is the biggest, the subheader is roughly a quarter of the size of the headline, and the body copy is roughly a quarter of that. 

Beyond just sizing, we also use positioning, color and whitespace to make a piece flow well. When it comes to positioning, for example, readers generally start at the top left, so that’s an ideal position for a headline.

Besides the headline, subheader and copy, there are often more pieces of text to take into consideration, which may include the following: branding, bullet lists, callouts, a call to action, contact information, direct quotations, disclosures, images, infographics, a logo and variable data.

If you’re thinking this is a long list of elements to juggle and place properly – and creatively – you’re right! Our clients often wonder how best to organize all their information, and sometimes they’re tempted to emphasize everything. We understand where they’re coming from; there’s a lot of important information to communicate. However, when everything is bold, italicized or underlined, nothing stands out, and the message is not clear.

The goal is effective communication. You don’t want your message swallowed by exciting but distracting design elements. What we’ve found works best is to pick out one or two of the most important points and put those on the top of the hierarchy list. Then the other items will fit better into the piece without overwhelming it…or the reader.

hierarchy in design example image

On the front of this postcard example, there are three main elements: a headline, subheader and copy. Notice that the headline is the biggest, and it’s in the upper left. The subheader is just below and smaller. To ensure the subheader doesn’t get lost, the designer put it in a bright pink box and used appropriate spacing. There’s a call to action at the bottom right. It’s roughly the same size type as the subheading, but it’s positioned at the bottom right and is a darker color, so you don’t see it right away. This piece has been mapped out so that your eye flows from the top left, reading the headline; to the middle, taking in the beautiful image; to the bottom right, where the call to action is located.

On the back of the postcard, there’s a lot of information; you’ll see many of those variables I mentioned earlier, but despite the amount of text, the message comes across clearly because the copy is organized logically with hierarchy, positioning, color and whitespace.

If you’d like help making your message stand out, I invite you to contact an representative. Our team is cutting-edge creative, but we understand that it’s about more than creativity; we’re constantly learning, staying on top of current industry issues and the latest marketing trends. Let us help you connect with your target audience and achieve your marketing goals.


Posted by - December 20, 2018