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Visual Literacy: Prominence, position visual hierarchy

When our eyes see a photograph, an ad or a web page we scan the document looking for the most important elements of the composition. In this first glimpse, lasting no more than a fraction of a second, we’re establishing “what” the piece is about.

To “hook” your viewers into taking a deeper look at your work, you need to establish a visual hierarchy to quickly clue the viewer into the most important areas of the Web page, advertisement or photo, then let them “discover” the rest of the image gradually. If they’re not given this anchor, then they’ll often leave, overwhelmed by the melee.

One of the simplest ways of establishing a visual hierarchy is to make your core subject larger and more prominent than anything else in the design. This clarifies the message you want the image to communicate to the viewer.

As an example, look at these two photos. Both are of mountain bikers riding in Moab, yet they tell different stories.



The first image is less about the rider and more about the colors, textures and shapes of the landscape. The second photo is more about the rider and the group of friends gathered to watch as he rides up a sandstone wave.

By establishing a visual hierarchy in your work, your viewers will see what you intended them to see, and hopefully receive the message you intended them to receive, whether it is subtle or loud and clear.


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