Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Tuesday 12th October 2010 - ITAP - Legibility & Visual Hierarchy


As an unconscious browser, one is not fully aware of the states of legibility insulting our senses as we browse, say, a magazine stand at WH Smith’s. It is an integral part of many disciplines within Visual Communication that the concept of legibility is fully understood. The most employed tactics is a high contrast colour, bold font and general scale of type to grab a viewer’s attention. It’s almost intuitive; to make something stand out, make it bigger, make it brighter, and make it more eye-catching than your competitor’s products. However, paralleling this is the need to keep the overall aesthetic pleasing to the eye. 

The example I chose is a magazine I myself subscribe to, and it proves my point quite well. There are 3 main parts to the cover (circled); The title, the cover image and the main topic of discussion. As it’s a designers magazine, it also has quite a nice coherence of fonts and colours, making it quite visually appealing. The immediate striking thing is the topic header; “Master of Manga” The contrast here is incredibly high, using complimentary colours to make the whole title pop. The type itself is a standard bold Arial font, making it very easy to read, which is important as it is what will sell the magazine. 

Flanking the image are the contents of the magazine, here, quite effectively, they’ve minimized the usage of different fonts by giving the headers quite a calligraphic font, and then alternating between emboldened and non emboldened text, breaking it up, whilst also making it more legible by breaking down the swathes of text, and still selling the item as it advertises its contents. The title stays very much similar through all the episodes, and the contrast between the ‘Imagine’ and the ‘FX’ is always maintained: Sometimes, very effectively. However here, due to the contents being pastel coloured Japanese characters, the contrast is somewhat lost compared to the yellow jacket and the pink hair.

Visual Hierarchy

Surrounding visual hierarchy is a mass of theory: The golden ratio, the rules of thirds, the circling effect, etc. This is somewhat played down in modern design practises, but is nevertheless a powerful tool, and if used properly, can make graphic layouts, as well as fine art pieces, pack a punch. In different cultures there are also different visual hierarchies, as we, as a westernised nation, read anything from left to right, top to bottom, so many magazines you will feel have a source in the top left. Going back to ImagineFX; there’s the meeting of the title, the left panel and the blue ‘speed lines’ background all spawning from the top left corner. This will be inverted in, say, Japan, as they read bottom to top, right to left traditionally.

 As an interesting inclusion in the idea of visual hierarchy, I have a subscriber’s edition of ImagineFX opposed to an ‘off-the-shelf’ edition, for comparison.

As you can see, on the subscriber’s edition, there is no eye catching material, no advertising, even the title has been minimized. This is due to the fact it’s sent through the mail, so no advertising is necessary, and also, you’ve already been sold it, in effect, you’ve spent money to receive it, presumably based on the principal you like it, so do not need to know of its contents.

Here’s the rule of thirds in terms of visual hierarchy: When partitioned vertically and horizontally into thirds; the intersections are points of interest; most likely to grab attention first. The blue line represents what I’ve been taught to call “The action line”: An invisible line that runs vertically and horizontally along a piece, cutting it up and having revolve around it the majority of the action or stark contrasts. As you can see, even in a more graphic orientated subject, the rule still holds up.

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