Emphasis as a Design Principle

The emphasis in a design is an area or object that is the focal point for the piece. It is a way of making the element that is most important stand out in the design. The focal point may be larger than other elements of the design or brightly colored—both of which tend to draw the eye.

Use of Emphasis in Design

One of the biggest mistakes designers can make is to try and make everything in the design stand out.

When everything has equal emphasis, the design can appear busy and confusing or worse—boring and unappealing. In addition to increasing size or adding color, the ways to create a focal point in a design include:

  • Create emphasis by contrast. If several elements are horizontal, one vertical element becomes the focal point.
  • If most elements in the design are dark or muted, an object with a slight color attracts the eye.
  • When most shapes are irregular, a geometric shape stands out.
  • When several items are grouped and one is separate from the group, the eye goes to the single item.
  • Although there are exceptions, an element placed in the center of a design usually draws the eye.

Hierarchy in Web Designs

Hierarchy is the visual arrangement of design elements that indicate importance by size. So, the largest elements is the most important, and the less important elements are smaller. Focus on creating a visual hierarchy in your web designs.

If you've worked to create a semantic flow to your HTML markup, this is easy because your webpage already has a hierarchy. All your design needs to do is put the emphasis on the correct element—such as an H1 headline—for the most emphasis.

Along with hierarchy in markup, recognize that a visitor's eye views a webpage in a Z pattern beginning at the upper left corner of the screen.

That makes the upper left corner of the page a good place for an important item such as your company logo. The top right corner is the second best placement position for important information.

How to Include Emphasis in Web Designs

Emphasis in web design can be implemented in many ways:

  • Use semantic markup to provide some emphasis even without any styles.
  • Change the size of fonts or images to emphasize or de-emphasize them in the design.
  • Use contrasting colors to provide emphasis.
  • Size counts. A huge word on the page or screen gets immediate attention.
  • Surround the focal point with white space.

Where Does Subordination Fit In?

Subordination occurs when you tone down other elements in a design to make the focal point pop. One example is a brightly colored graphic positioned against a black and white background photo. The same effect occurs when you use muted colors or colors that blend with the background behind the focal point, causing it to stand out.

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Kyrnin, Jennifer. "Emphasis as a Design Principle." ThoughtCo, Jul. 24, 2017, thoughtco.com/emphasis-design-principle-3470052. Kyrnin, Jennifer. (2017, July 24). Emphasis as a Design Principle. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/emphasis-design-principle-3470052 Kyrnin, Jennifer. "Emphasis as a Design Principle." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/emphasis-design-principle-3470052 (accessed November 22, 2017).