The Importance of Visual Hierarchy in Advertising

Advertising requires efficient communication. If Party A has a goal of getting a message to Party B, basic psychology states that all the basic steps of communication must be fulfilled, in this order: intent, composition, encoding, transmission, reception, decoding, interpretation. A client provides the communicative intent, and the signal transmission is executed through postal service, television broadcasting, or the World Wide Web. The reception, decoding, and interpretation is all up to the recipient – in this case a consumer within a target market. This leaves a designer (or team of designers and account executives) in control of only a small portion of this process – message composition and encoding. To accomplish these crucial communication steps, a visual hierarchy is needed.

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We have to assume that everything included in a certain piece is important (otherwise it could have been excluded entirely), so after that assumption, we want to find what is most important. A sound hierarchal structure always answers the question, “Which elements are most important?” This principle will ensure the final design does not confuse the viewer by relentlessly featuring a barrage of oversized text, images, and logos, and failing to include any white or negative space. The hierarchal structure will actually encourage a combined treatment of components, as well as the careful alignment of elements that respect one another’s placement within the grid structure. Proper hierarchy guides the viewer through the piece, allows them to easily follow a step-by-step path, and allows them to fully comprehend the exact message being conveyed.

Hierarchy in design dictates how a certain piece should be viewed by manipulating an infinite number of visual cues. Whether a designer is handling text, images, or logos, the main goal should be to organize the components in a manner that will call attention to the most important items first. Size and arrangement are two of the most important variables in hierarchy. Now that we know this, let us examine them in the images below. From these images we can assume that the most important object provided is the phrase “The All-New 2016 Prius.” In Western culture, people read from left to right, and top to bottom, so if you place the most important object in the upper left, it will draw more attention to it (Fig. 1; an email blast). Alternately, the human eye more easily perceives larger objects than smaller objects, so if you make an object larger is another indicator that it should receive a lot of attention. (Fig. 2; a GSP ad). If you combine the variables of size and arrangement you are even more likely to yield positive results in your advertisement (Fig. 3; a display banner).

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All drivers in visual advertising require an efficient, organized hierarchal structure, which means its importance should be stressed in all facets of ad design. With so few steps under a designer’s influence in the process of communication from client to consumer, it is crucial to utilize the strongest tools available to ensure the success of a message’s composition and encoding.

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