• Nadine Hanafi

Too Busy to Learn Design? Here’s the Only Design Principle You Need to Understand

Updated: Jul 9, 2019

It’s called “Visual Hierarchy” and it’s the difference between this painfully wordy slide and this refreshingly clean slide.

Yes, you are looking at the EXACT SAME amount of text on both slides. Crazy right?

One slide looks loaded and overwhelming.

The other is not only easy on the eyes, it actually “feels shorter” and easier to consume.

That’s the power of visual hierarchy.

You’ve already started applying this principle by using font pairing to break up text in my “Typography for Dummies” blog post (if you haven’t read it yet, go check it out).

But, in this post, I want to tell you a bit more about what visual hierarchy is, why it matters and how to leverage it to improve the design of your slides.

So what is “visual hierarchy”?

Visual hierarchy is the purposeful prioritization and organization of content in a specific layout using variations of size, color and contrast so as to “guide” your audience through your content.

I know it sounds complicated but it’s actually pretty simple.

Think about this. When you look at a billboard ad or a magazine ad, your eye is immediately drawn to certain visual elements, sort of unconsciously.

In other words:

What you don’t realize is just how much thought the designer put into making sure that your eye followed that exact trajectory, leading your attention exactly where they want it, in the order they want it.

Here’s how visual hierarchy works:

1) Our eyes read from top to bottom and from left to right (at least in the western, Latin and Anglo-Saxon worlds). Therefore, information displayed will be read top first, then middle, then bottom and from left to right.

2) Our eyes are immediately drawn to the object with the highest contrast. The contrast can be a result of size or color.

For example, the object that is the largest on a page will be seen first, regardless of its position on the page (19% below).

Similarly, the object with the most “flashy” color will be noticed first (red umbrella below).

Visual hierarchy is your new best friend because it allows you to break up monotonous same size text into a visually appealing set of titles, subtitles, paragraphs and images that make otherwise boring content look appealing.

Let’s look at the example from earlier again.

Content is divided into small chunks with headlines, visuals and captions.

Those smaller headlines and short paragraphs displayed in large font entice you to read the slightly smaller blocks of text on the rest of the page.

If that captures your attention, then you will naturally read the rest of the text I want you to read.

Basically what happened is that I “tricked” you into reading a crap ton of text without you even realizing it.

If all the content had been displayed as one big block of text (like the one below) with no discernible pieces or visual appeal you would’ve felt exhausted at the mere idea of reading through ALL that text and not even bothered to read the first line.

Am I right or am I right?

Sometimes, when faced with a slide that has “too much text” on it, some people will add a photo to “spice it up” or “break it up a bit”.

If you want to “break things up”, you have to *literally* break up your text box into sections and use visual hierarchy to display your content in a way that is less monotonous and more appealing to the eye.

And that’s how you turn a soup of text like this:

Into a clear and simple design like this:

If you can practice this ONE design principle in your slide design, you’ll already be on your way to creating slides that look 10x better than all the overstuffed, ugly and wordy presentations out there!

Want more presentation tips like these? Check out my book Slide Therapy.

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