Emphasis in Design

Now that we’ve understood the 9 Principles and Balance, let’s build on our grasp of those and explore something else. 

Emphasis is a strategy that aims to draw the viewer’s attention to a specific design element. This could be to an area of content; to an image; to a link; to a button. We see emphasis used in most fields of design, including architecture, landscape design, and fashion design. Emphasis surrounds us, even if you might not realise that it’s called “emphasis”. However, we are sure that you can recall some of these “emphasised” elements without too much effort! Reading on, you’ll see how common they are…

The aim is to create a focal point in the design: an eye-catching part that stands out, distinct from the rest of the design elements. As a designer, you have many tools to create emphasis in your product. Let’s just see some of them now:


Lines – Many designers use a specific linear flow to determine the overall direction of the page. When you change this flow, you call attention to the point on the page where the flow is broken. For example, if your design uses horizontal lines and if you break the pattern and use a vertical line, it will stand out as a point where attention is required. This is automatic – the human eye will catch it; so, it’s important that you make the distraction meaningful.

Shapes – If you are using a group of similar shapes on a page (say, rectangles), then using a different shape (say, a circle) will instantly draw the eye. The eye loves to go to find something different straightaway. Many puzzles and fun memes on the internet challenge us to find the different shape in a sea of many shapes which are the same as each other but only slightly different.

Colours - A shift in colour can create a focal point in a design. The more contrasting the change, the more the point demands the viewer’s attention. Softer contrasts can gradually draw attention from one area to the next. Your choice of colour should be in keeping with how you want your users to proceed on your page. Loud or dramatic colour contrasts will make their eyes “jump”; softer shifts will allow them to move more leisurely, so you can keep a calmer information flow.

Textures - You can also use the texture of a website design to draw attention to an element. For example, you can use an embossed effect to emphasise areas in text. Or, in another example, you can use drop shadowing to make an area stand out on the page.

Mass – You can use colour or shape to suggest “heaviness” too. For example, using a dark-coloured element within a brightly coloured page is likely to emphasise the dark-coloured element against the rest of the content. You can see this in headline and title text in written content on almost every website.

Posted 7 months ago

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