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Establishing a heirarchy of contrast is not only useful in directing the viewers eyes but more importantly can be used to direct their mind. Conveying content, now that is real power. Content is a meaning or significance of a literary or artistic work, the information or expression being communicated With that in mind, let's see how it plays out with typography and photographic imagery. Here are a few design examples to demonstrate that a heirarchy of contrast exists in all types of images.
The examples provided are from San Francisco design studio, The Hydrilla. Let's start with this poster, a truly excellent piece utilizing a hierarchy of value in its design. The viewer's eye is naturally drawn to the highest area of contrast, the white mask against the black coat and hair, and is directed by use of directional pointer In this case, the nose. We follow the contrast along the nose of the mask, taking in the general silhouette of the figure. And are directed towards the next most important element, the type, or the title of the piece.
The contrast is similar in value to the nose, coat, and hair relationship. But the quantity of white against black is made up of smaller shapes in the typography. Size or quantity of color does matter. We're drawn to larger shapes of contrasting color or in this case, value, and move to smaller areas by degrees. The type is wisely designed to decrease in size and thus value contrast as we move to the bottom towards less significant content.
Here's an example of temperature, value, and complementary contrast working in concert. The primary focus here is on the typography. The most important message, a cozy fireplace, is in a vibrant, highly-saturated orange yellow hue. Although chilly nights might be read first as the western viewers start from left to right when reading. The attention is focused on the contrast of warmth in a field of blue. The eye is lead to the actual fireplace or home and hearth symbol of three small pieces of orange and yellow in the house below.
Notice that the color is a similar hue to the type above it so that the eye will link the content intuitively. The viewer is then led to the next highest value contrast along the horizon to the type at the bottom, the name of the hotel. Again, the message of home and hearth is the most important content to convey to the viewer with the actual name of the hotel second in level of importance. The hierarchy of contrasts should demonstrate the order of importance of the information in a design.
This last example, an album cover, demonstrates the power of vibrant contrasting complementary color. The red-green combination, in addition to helping direct the eye, assists in defining the mood, and expression of personal style. As with the other examples that I've shown you, our attention starts with the contrast of texture, value, and a vibrant red hue in the artist's hat, hair and face. Which pulls our attention immediately to her. Our eyes are then allowed to circle around the silhouette of the form and lastly the type, her name.
I ask the designer why the name is so lacking in contrast by comparison to all the other elements. He explained that this album cover only appears online and with a group of other albums on website page that features her name prominently at the top. If this album were a stand alone for print, then they would clearly have a prominent position in the hierarchy of contrasting elements. When your content, color, and contrast work in concert, you can conquer the world. Or at least be a more effective visual communicator.
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