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Before & After: Things Every Designer Should Know
Illustration by John Hersey

Have a focal point


From:

Before & After: Things Every Designer Should Know

with John McWade

Video: Have a focal point

Another way to keep things simple is to make sure your design has a Focal Point. A Focal Point is typically the biggest or the brightest or the boldest or the most different element on your page, and it gives your reader a place to focus. Bin of green apples, they are fine apples, but we really have nowhere to look until we turn one of them red, and then it becomes obvious.

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Before & After: Things Every Designer Should Know
1h 5m Appropriate for all Feb 27, 2013

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Appearance may not be everything, but how something looks has a fundamental impact on how it's perceived, what it communicates, and whether it succeeds. In this course, author John McWade of Before & After magazine shares foundational graphic design techniques that will make your page, screen, product, or presentation look and perform its best.

These design essentials can be used by nondesigners as tips, tricks, and shortcuts, and by professionals as building blocks to greater understanding. Each lesson is a short, easy-to-understand how-to that can be applied regardless of the brand of software and hardware you use. This course was created and produced by the Before & After magazine team. We are honored to host this content in our library.

Subjects:
Design Page Layout Typography Design Techniques Design Skills
Author:
John McWade

Have a focal point

Another way to keep things simple is to make sure your design has a Focal Point. A Focal Point is typically the biggest or the brightest or the boldest or the most different element on your page, and it gives your reader a place to focus. Bin of green apples, they are fine apples, but we really have nowhere to look until we turn one of them red, and then it becomes obvious.

And you've actually simplified your presentation for your viewer in doing this. Here's an example of a magazine spread that's partly designed. We have an attractive base here. By base, I mean a basic layout here. But you'd have to be really motivated to read this story, because it's just all gray text, and you have to read in order to discover what the story is about.

All this changes when we add a Focal Point. Our model now could be what the story is about or it could be about summer or what she is wearing or whatever. But now with this big attractive picture, the rest of the article becomes very easy to read, very light to read, and as you're reading, you're kind of relating to what that picture is conveying.

You can make a Focal Point just using type. In this case, a massive word FIRE anchors this design. And with that, it's very easy to read the remainder of the copy. Here's another example. We have a simple black-and-white flyer with two graphics, a logotype, a headline, and some text.

All are about the same size. They all have similar color value, no Focal Point on this page. We'll make a much more attractive design as well as make the page easier to read. We can do this simply just by making one of those graphics quite large, and the others smaller. This gives your eye a place to go. As this is a hierarchy of big, medium, and small, it makes the page more attractive, easier to read, simple solution, create a Focal Point.

Here's an example that's more complex. Now, this is the inside of a three-panel brochure that was sent to us by the Southwest Mental Health Center in San Antonio, Texas. It's just three gray columns of type with blue tombstone style heads over them. And concealed in all this gray are at least five stories, and they're interesting ones. And so, for the makeover, the first step was to create a focal statement that was also the visual Focal Point.

And in this case, we needed to dig through the copy and find kind of an overarching statement, sort of the umbrella statement, which turns out to be there is hope for children and youth. Set that large in two colors, added photographs of children, and put it in the upper-left corner of the brochure. And this now becomes the Focal Point. Next step was to add the second-level story.

And you'll notice that there are some bold portions of this. Those bold phrases actually create kind of a third-level story that you can read very quickly. I mean, you can peruse very quickly and get a sense of what the copy is about. Down in the lower-left corner was added the biographical information for the hospital itself. We made it in gray to recede a bit, added the picture of the boy to tie to the photos that are in the headline, and then finally added the four primary services of the hospital and just listed them 1, 2, 3, 4 with their own orange heads, tied the whole thing together with the theme of a butterfly.

So, now what we have on this page is a hierarchy of big, medium, and small, things you see first, things you see second, things you see third. But the key here is that the big head, there is hope for children and youth, sort of influences everything on the page. When I say it's the Focal Point and the focal center of the page, you now read the top story.

And as you're reading, you're thinking there is hope for children and youth. And as you're reading the biographical information for the hospital, you're thinking there's hope for children and youth. And as you're reading the services of the hospital, you are thinking there's hope for children and youth. So, that's the effect that a Focal Point has. It just sort of projects itself into the entire design. A last example, this is typical of where you have a large space to fill, in this case, an 8.5x11 inch cover, and not a lot of material to go on it.

Our tendency is to just kind of make everything big to fill that space. But you'll get a stronger design if you do the opposite. If you actually reduce your design area and focus it, has the effect of intensifying it. So, in this case, we'll just throw all the big things off the page and basically reduce the page size to about half, and then along a centerline put all the heads back in.

Lift the lizard out of its background, and set him into our new design area, kind of overlapping as his tail is kind of spilling out onto the page, and that's it. We have now a stronger, more focused presentation. So, we've kind of used the entire contents of the cover as a Focal Point and thereby improved it.

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