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Hierarchy and Contrast: Understanding the foundation of graphic design to achieve visual goals - Part 1

Join us for a two-part series exploring the principles and best practices of creative imagery in marketing effectiveness. The goal of this series is to teach readers how to identify and create imagery that is not just pretty, but effective.

Effective imagery is not just pretty: It ties into messaging and drives business goals and results.

As the world becomes increasingly visual, marketers are relying more and more heavily on either partnerships with graphic designers or the use of graphic design apps such as Canva and SparkPost to create visually pleasing imagery.

Neither approach is better than the other, and both can help you achieve your goals depending on your budget, scope, and time restraints.

But… How do you know if the imagery you create on these apps is effective and not just pretty? How do you know if you hired a designer – someone who will visually communicate what your brand represents and help facilitate sales and growth – or a decorator – someone who will give you a gorgeous image that will just sit there driving no traffic because it doesn’t resonate with your audience?

Simple: You must educate yourself enough to be able to identify which images are pretty but pointless vs. engaging and useful.The quickest way to do this is to understand the foundation upon which design is built: hierarchy and contrast.

Hierarchy is about determining which aspect or information is most important. Contrast is about making sure that point is emphasized and stands out.

DESIGN EXAMPLES - HIERARCHY & CONTRAST 
Poor contrast and the emphasis on “Nicole” crushes the hierarchy of this hero image and almost guarantees no one is going to click the button that says “2016 Collection,” much less read the information below it.

 

Excellent contrast through color and hierarchy through size makes sure you look at the figure, and read the title and supporting information – nothing is left out or gets skipped. See example below:

In marketing, we establish hierarchy by choosing titles and pull quotes. We create contrast to emphasize that hierarchy by making those titles and pull quotes bigger and/or bolder.This encourages people to read and absorb the information.

TEXT EXAMPLES - HIERARCHY  
Good and bad hierarchy applies to large sets of text as well.The example below portrays bad hierarchy with large blocks of text and no clue as to what the reader will learn:

Below is an example of good hierarchy with lots of context clues and easy “skimmability."

Let’s take a closer look into what’s actually happening here. There are three key elements that factor into creating hierarchy and contrast:

  1. Size – In general, we tend to make the things we want to stand out bigger and the less important information smaller.
  2. Color – In general, warm colors inspire us to take action and cool colors inspire us to relax. Restaurants almost always use some element of red or orange in their décor to inspire your appetite, while spas almost always use elements of cool greens and blues to help soothe. 
  3.  Shape – Shape can have profound effects on the success of your design. Combining hard edges with round creates contrast between the shapes, while repetition of the same type of shape crates cohesion.

For more on color theory in marketing, check out this fantastic article from November 2017 in the Huffington Post, Is ‘Color Theory’ An Effective Marketing Tool?

The beauty of working with a designer or apps like Canva and Adobe Spark is that they have already taken these principles into account, so you are almost guaranteed to create a beautiful image. However, as our Nicole example above shows, it is up to you as the marketer to make sure that the hierarchy and contrast are in the appropriate place and on the appropriate element.

We’ll discuss how to do this in depth in part two of our series exploring principles and best practices of creative imagery in marketing effectiveness, Creating Context: Combining messaging and visuals to drive marketing success. Mark your calendar for April 18, 2018!

Sources:
 Is ‘Color Theory’ An Effective Marketing Tool? 
Dealindesign.com 



Jennie Jerome
CEO, The Strategic Artisan

Jennie Jerome is widely recognized as an emerging business development leader dedicated to crafting memorable brand identity systems throughout the world. She has been the CEO of The Strategic Artisan for the past eight years and has been in her industry for 11 years. She currently serves as Adjunct Faculty for both the Business and Graphic Design departments at Scottsdale Community College and is an Associate Professor at the prestigious ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Innovation. Jennie is a national level equestrian and has been to over 50 countries for work and play. As an Arizona native, she tries her best to be overseas during summer. 

 

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