Day 24: Visual Hierarchy Basics Concept Draft

Day 24: Visual Hierarchy Basics Concept Draft

Visual Hierarchy Readers have been leaving interesting ideas on the ETP Printable Template Kit post, which is the indirect inspiration for today’s product of the day: a Visual Hierarchy Basics primer, of sorts. It started out as an attempt to make a simpler “Form Making 101” template. However, I found I couldn’t even start to make a template without explaining some basics—or rather, I wanted to be sure that potential users knew just what goes into a form. This got writing more about the foundation of 2D design as I understand it.

This diagram isn’t complete, but it’s a good start. I could see this becoming the basis of a second book that goes into the details of making nice forms in Illustrator, while also explaining the underlying principles. This is a long-term product development play. Perhaps it will be what I do in April.

Total time of production: around 2-3 hours. I’m not satisfied with the layout, but it’s good enough to convey one way of presenting the foundation of good information design as I see it.


Groundhog Day Resolution Posts for 2014

I am challenging myself to create a new product every day for the month of February 2013. The Challenge Page lists all the products in one place. Check it out!


  1. Helen Clement 11 years ago

    This is excellent information. Please write the book, or possibly two books, the Illustrator one and another one on the underlying principles. Not all of us use Illustrator (or indeed any such program to speak of) but those principles are widely applicable.

  2. Federico Figueredo 11 years ago

    The TL;DR answer

    I’m extremely happy to see this. I believe there’s a profound lack of material that clearly and succinctly explains the fundamentals of graphic design and communication.

    I’m purchasing the 365-day ETP journal as a small way to say thanks :)

    The following section is opinionated and optional.

    It’s currently hard to get into design because most of the information out there* is technical or otherwise guided towards professionals. This makes self study more cumbersome and funnels those willing towards the festival of hoop jumping that is academia.

    *there are notable exceptions.

    Even if you decide to access formal graphic design education, there is a big chance you’ll miss out on some fundamental tools and concepts.

    My own experience with academia was a mixed bag: there were lots of talented professionals but not a lot of talented teachers. Furthermore, there was an emphasis on the mastery of tools and on the quantity of the work to the detriment of actually understanding what you were doing.

    The results were a bit sad. Most of the classmates I used to attend with couldn’t coherently explain why they had made the design choices that went into work they themselves produced.

    I’ve been looking into finding or even making the kind of material that puts these kind of fundamental tools and mental models in the hands of the people looking for them. I know this will probably not bring you huge piles of money, but I’m really happy it’s being made nonetheless.

  3. & 11 years ago

    I’d buy this book. I’m not a graphic artist by any measure, but find myself getting sucked into it anyway. Not being schooled as a designer, I’d like to put some principles behind my instincts. The visual hierarchy information is useful… I really like the grid showing how attention moves between grey boxes and flashy elements.

  4. bill allen 11 years ago

    I’ve followed your work for some time David, and always enjoy reading your blog.

    You have a great positive attitude, but sometimes it seems you can be a little hard on yourself IMO…

    Anyway, I love typography, and looking at this today, I’m wondering whether your Illustrator kerning settings are metric or optical?

    Looks like metric to me as some of the pairs seem a little uncomfortable. I could be wrong, but might be worth a play – would be good to hear what you think!

  5. Lise 11 years ago

    The primer is very useful. I have no training in design but somehow I accumulated the principles presented in the primer. However, having them in one place for a quick reference is very helpful. I just finished reading “The Non-Designer’s Design Book” by Robin Williams but still learned even more from you.

  6. Author
    Dave Seah 11 years ago

    Wow, I didn’t expect such a response.

    For those of you who want to learn these principles now, one of the best resources I’ve seen is Before & After’s Page Design. If you buy it from my Graphic Design Book List I’ll get 10 cents or something :) My book would probably be more personal, about how I use the tools and see the world as a set of impulses and reactions. I don’t know.

    Federico: That seems roughly equal to my experience as well. The biggest challenge, I find, is knowing what to say and what it is supposed to accomplish. In other words: communication. Consider this example, using words: BLUE THINK versus THINK BLUE. This is a juxtaposition, which shows that order of reading affects the thought. This works in the written word, film, and graphic design, albeit at different time scales. It ties back to cognition and understanding how people think, and by extension HOW to think. Dang it, you made me write a piece of a book :)

    & I liked that grid too. Pretty cool, isn’t it? The power of controlled contrast.

    Bill: Excellent…thanks for following and for the kind words. I am curious: Where am I hard on myself? I’d be very interested in what a kindler-gentler approach might be, actually. I don’t think I’m hard on myself, but I might not know what the alternative is. I think of it as just facing issues as directly as possible, acknowledging the feeling, and not letting it guilt me into inaction.
    Regarding the kerning settings: I didn’t really look at them closely. I left it alone in this draft. I am wondering, though, if the PDF if not doing a good job of translating the glyphs for the font I’m using (Proxima Nova Condensed) into the metrics. It always looks a little wonky to me when I view the PDF. Are you looking at a printout or on-screen? With Proxima Nova Condensed, I find I prefer the metric setting over optical most of the time, but then again kerning has always slightly eluded me!

    Lise: You have the principles IN you, probably because they are based on how people respond to visual stimuli. High contrast elements are the ones that catch our eye first…big! bold! Probably threatening! Anything that stands out from the background might be a lion hiding in the tall grasses… //////////////////////////////..///////////////////////////////////

  7. Amit Patel 11 years ago

    This is so incredibly beautiful! I just have to figure out how to put it into practice…