Layout, for both print and screen, is one of the most important aspects of graphic design. Designs that extend across multiple pages or screens, whether containing large or small amounts of type, must be carefully controlled in a way that is enticing and is easy for all to access. Careful control of visual hierarchy is a key aspect of the design decisions we have to consider.
In this article, we will look at how frequently type needs to be broken down into different levels, such as topic, importance and tone of voice. We will explore how this can be achieved visually by relying on several things: texture and tone, seeing the designer as reader, combining typefaces, using color, employing multiple types and, of course, using the grid. Seeing the complexities that can be expressed through typography is fascinating — not to say that images cannot help to order content, but simply that the most significant elements are expressed typographically.
Letterforms make words, and words have meaning. While scale, tone, texture and composition will always be relevant, people’s recognition of the meanings of actual words has to be considered when designing with type. Reading through and trying to understand the copy used in a project is vital to deciding the order and relative importance of information. It is also valuable for the designer to identify highly topical subject matter, words and letters that make intriguing connections, challenging language and even shocking statements that are likely to attract attention.
In order to improve the target audience’s understanding of the design and facilitate their interaction with it, the designer needs to step into their shoes and interpret the hierarchy that they’re given, perhaps augmenting it or suggesting alternatives.
Texture and tone control the order in which the user reads the text. Although the main quote and the text in the gray box are not at the top of the page, they will be seen first, and consumption of the remaining type will be governed by nuances of tone, texture and positioning. Larger view. (Design: Bright Pink)
Position and orientation in a layout can have far less of an impact than depth of tone or typographic texture. A piece of type can be arresting wherever it is positioned, providing it has sufficient visual strength. If the information that follows is given lower tonal values, then a visual hierarchy will have been established, regardless of positioning.
We cannot ignore the Western convention of reading from left to right and top to bottom and, in particular, the Western viewer’s instinctive response to return to the left edge; these can be extremely valuable tendencies. However, carefully selected textures and tones should be the overriding influences on hierarchy.
Of course, all typographic textures and tones are relative to each other and to other elements on the page. Some of the most powerful uses of layout stem from choices of scale and composition. A lot of surrounding space can really make type stand out.