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Understanding how we "chunk" visual elements

From: Typography for Web Designers

Video: Understanding how we "chunk" visual elements

When we read, we use similarity and proximity to mentally organize or chunk the contents of a page. What is similarity? Similarity is a psychological principle. Basically we read things that look alike as belonging together. For example, if I were to ask you to sort these elements into two piles, you would probably put the dots together and the lines together, because even when the dots and lines were mixed in, we see the dots as belonging together and the lines as belonging together, as forming two groups.

Understanding how we "chunk" visual elements

When we read, we use similarity and proximity to mentally organize or chunk the contents of a page. What is similarity? Similarity is a psychological principle. Basically we read things that look alike as belonging together. For example, if I were to ask you to sort these elements into two piles, you would probably put the dots together and the lines together, because even when the dots and lines were mixed in, we see the dots as belonging together and the lines as belonging together, as forming two groups.

When we read we use similarity to mentally organize the contents on a page. We also use proximity to mentally organize the contents of a page. Proximity is another psychological principle. We read things that are close to each other as belonging together. For example, if we separate the dots and lines like so, we began to see two groups of dots and two groups of lines. As typographers we can use the principles of similarity and proximity to organize or chunk text on the page.

In fact, we need similarity and proximity to create hierarchy. Notice how when we carefully merge the lines and dots, the dots which are a bit bigger and darker stand out. They have more hierarchy. In typographical terms, they almost begin to look like headings. The opposite of similarity is contrast. The trick to creating good hierarchy is to have the right balance of similarity and contrast. If the headings in a text are too similar to the text, they get lost. Everything is so similar and it just begins to read like text.

If the headings in a text are too different from each other and they lose their similarity, it's hard to tell if they're the same level of heading. Is one higher than the other? We need headings to have the right amount of contrast from the level of heading above it or below it to create good hierarchy. Headings with the right hierarchy help readers who are scanning information. They will be scanning for words or letters in the headings trying to find what they're looking for. If a higher level heading is totally off-topic for them, they will skip all the lower-level headings and go right for the next higher level heading.

Readers learn quickly how to use similarity to their advantage. Headings with the right hierarchy also help readers who are reading casually. Headings help break up the text and give the reader a sense of what parts of the text belong to larger ideas. More likely to read whole sentences and paragraphs, casual readers may still choose to skip a section if they're not interested in the topic. They will look for the start of the next section and start reading there. Finally, headings with hierarchy help engaged readers.

Even in a novel, headings are used to separate a story into chapters and chapters into scenes. Headings and other decorative breaks in the text help engaged readers know where they are in the narrative and if it's a good place to stop. So it's important to balance similarity and contrast to create hierarchy. We want to organize text into sections and subsections. If the headings are too similar to each other, it's hard to see what's a section and what's a subsection. Here I have only used two levels of hierarchy.

The main headline and the lower-level headlines and they look so much alike they are basically one level of hierarchy. If headings are too different from each other it's also hard to see what is a section and what is a subsection. Here I have used six different kinds of hierarchy, even though I don't need that many. I only needed two. The multiple sizes, styles, cases, and weights make it hard to see what is the subsection of what. The trick is to identify how many layers of hierarchy we need and use only that number of headings. No more, no less.

For instance in a bibliography, we need a main heading, a section heading, and resource titles. That's it. Three levels of hierarchy.

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This video is part of

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Typography for Web Designers

74 video lessons · 13978 viewers

Laura Franz
Author

 
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  1. 6m 18s
    1. Welcome
      1m 9s
    2. Using the exercise files
      1m 57s
    3. Things to consider before starting this course
      3m 12s
  2. 41m 3s
    1. Understanding how good typography promotes reading
      2m 9s
    2. Understanding legibility
      4m 41s
    3. Understanding how fonts convey meaning
      5m 19s
    4. Choosing web-safe fonts to convey meaning
      6m 13s
    5. Using font size, case, style, letter spacing, weight, and color to convey meaning
      6m 22s
    6. Choosing web fonts to convey meaning
      6m 23s
    7. Downloading web fonts
      4m 9s
    8. Applying web fonts in CSS with @font-face
      5m 47s
  3. 38m 0s
    1. Choosing a web-safe font for use in text
      4m 13s
    2. Applying the web-safe font to the text and the heading
      3m 4s
    3. Setting a class for the resource titles in the text
      3m 45s
    4. Choosing a second web-safe font for the heading
      2m 42s
    5. Applying the second font to the heading
      2m 16s
    6. Choosing a web font from the Google Font API for use in text
      5m 44s
    7. Adding and applying the Google Font API syntax
      4m 29s
    8. Choosing a second web font from the Google Font API for the heading
      2m 56s
    9. Adding and applying the second font to the heading
      4m 52s
    10. Analyzing the fonts on some professional sites
      3m 59s
  4. 55m 31s
    1. Understanding how we read
      4m 34s
    2. Finding and applying a good font size and line height
      4m 50s
    3. Finding and applying a good line length
      8m 6s
    4. Understanding ems
      6m 17s
    5. Using ems to set font size
      6m 9s
    6. Using ems to set line length
      3m 40s
    7. Understanding how color affects readability
      3m 58s
    8. Improving a color palette by improving contrast
      5m 39s
    9. Improving a color palette by reducing optical vibration
      4m 59s
    10. Analyzing text readability on the professional sites
      7m 19s
  5. 1h 11m
    1. Understanding how we "chunk" visual elements
      3m 59s
    2. Developing a system of hierarchy
      2m 17s
    3. Applying hierarchy in HTML and CSS
      7m 16s
    4. Developing a system to help chunk text for readers
      6m 1s
    5. Applying the system in the CSS
      4m 19s
    6. Changing an element by creating and applying a class
      5m 0s
    7. Using multiple columns to create hierarchy
      4m 12s
    8. Building a two-column system in HTML and CSS
      10m 56s
    9. Refining the horizontal space in a two-column layout
      6m 1s
    10. Adding rule lines to improve chunking
      5m 50s
    11. Adding emphasis within a heading
      4m 36s
    12. Analyzing the chunking on the professional sites
      11m 18s
  6. 17m 57s
    1. Understanding classic and modernist typographic pages
      7m 3s
    2. Understanding how to create rhythm and tension
      6m 0s
    3. Applying typography skills when making design decisions
      4m 54s
  7. 55m 47s
    1. Designing typographic links for the traditional page
      5m 54s
    2. Adding a list of links to the traditional page
      8m 44s
    3. Describing the link states in CSS
      6m 30s
    4. Returning links to their original "unvisited" style
      2m 38s
    5. Using different CSS for different kinds of links
      7m 28s
    6. Using CSS notation to organize syntax
      5m 34s
    7. Choosing a background color or image
      4m 0s
    8. Applying a repeating background image
      2m 58s
    9. Shaping the traditional page layout
      6m 38s
    10. Analyzing the traditional typographic elements on the professional sites
      5m 23s
  8. 43m 0s
    1. Designing typographic links for the modernist page
      6m 47s
    2. Making a list of links run across the page
      2m 14s
    3. Adding and removing space between the navigation links
      6m 50s
    4. Styling the inline links on the modernist page
      5m 33s
    5. Choosing a background color or image for the modernist bibliography
      4m 4s
    6. Applying a no-repeat background image
      4m 13s
    7. Shaping the modernist page layout
      6m 58s
    8. Analyzing the modernist typographic elements on the professional sites
      6m 21s
  9. 52m 53s
    1. Fixing quotation marks and apostrophes
      6m 59s
    2. Fixing dashes
      6m 33s
    3. Working with lining figures (numbers) and acronyms
      9m 28s
    4. Fixing characters that don't look right
      8m 19s
    5. Hanging punctuation
      2m 54s
    6. Applying typographic accents
      2m 36s
    7. Vertically centering text
      5m 18s
    8. Creating drop caps
      5m 59s
    9. Analyzing the typographic details on the professional sites
      4m 47s
  10. 3m 9s
    1. Additional resources
      3m 9s

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