What techniques can be used to create a proper hierarchy of design elements?
As a beginning designer, and up to this day, I have always struggled with a very basic thing in my designs: the feeling that everything is important. This is especially true for flyers, posters, websites and other designs with lots of text.
This is especially true for very basic or non-existent design briefs, where the client/friend/family member expects you to do all the work since 'you're the designer'. Since everything is important, everything needs to be as big and/or colorful as possible, resulting in a crowded, bloated design, where it's really unclear what is actually important.
So, on to the question:
How can a designer create a relationship between equally important content within a design without the design appearing overly cluttered and unorganized?
How can multiple object/items be given "weight" but not overpower each other?
Note: uncluttered is not the same as minimalist or simple. I'm not looking for a way to leave any information off, but rather to decide between what should be seen first, and what should only become apparent on closer inspection.
Note 2: answers with practical examples of posters, flyers, design are much appreciated.
Things that help designers focus on what's important to a design:
- Identify the key message - this is what people viewing the design should intuitively grasp, this is the voice or message of the design. Everything in the design should help reinforce the message. This is a careful balancing act as being too blatant can be off-putting and not everything in a design should be screaming the same message at the same time.
- Identify what the design is to accomplish - what are the business needs for the design? Why is someone paying for this? Why should people look at your design? Make sure your design actually helps accomplish the business goals that created it. Otherwise it just becomes personal art.
- Design uses several principles to accomplish its purpose: Balance, Rhythm, Proportion, Dominance (emphasis), and Unity (Gestalt theory). See http://char.txa.cornell.edu/ for a good overview of these principles (horribly designed website but the principles are good). Make use of these principles keeping in mind #1 and #2 above.
Keeping these items in mind as you design will help you maintain focus and help you better understand and utilize all the elements you decide to include in your design. Also, iteration will help you figure which design approaches work best for the project (again #1 and #2). Nothing beats experimentation to figure out what works and what doesn't. Finally, don't forget to break away for a time and come back with a refreshed mind to a design - too often designers shoot themselves in the foot by allowing themselves to be too entrenched in the work - a kind of tunnel-vision. Step away for a period of time and come back to it with a fresh mind. Also it can be helpful to have another designer review your work - a design critique - to help spot weaknesses in your design or spotlight further design possibilities to be explored.
Now for an example: http://store.apple.com/us/mac (viewed on 4/13/2015)
Here Apple is highlighting one of their new computers, the 2015 MacBook. Notice how Apple uses a product shot against straight white background with a minimal shadows. Notice the image is larger than the text but balanced as a whole. The image of the MacBook is angled, almost dropping, providing a sense of motion and activity. Notice the blue button with the pricing, inviting users to click. Looking at the whole of that design (ignoring the rest of the website which is a bit unfair but we don't have time to delve into all that) we see many of the design principles being used. We can also note the primary message (buy the new MacBook) and see how everything ties together to focus on that message. Left to right, top to bottom, large and small elements, almost symmetrical columns, a typeface rhythm, a splash of color to draw focus to the button, everything working to say "Buy this new product!".
To re-iterate: (clear message + clear purpose) * design principles = focused design.