Both visual hierarchy and grid systems have come a long way since the use of letterpress to produce type and layouts in magazines, newspapers and posters. Looking at two Cleo Magazine covers, September 1974 (figure 1) and May 2013 (figure 2), we can easily see how far visual hierarchy and the grid system have come.
Both grids and visual hierarchy are essential organizational tools. They provide the framework and structure to written information and provide a consistency throughout a publication while enhancing the communication, cohesion and legibility aspects of the type. They provide interest, structure and emphasis and are key in creating publications with a consistent feel and understanding.
While figure 1 uses these tools to provide the framework and structure for the publications, it is a very constricted and overly simplistic take on the use of grids and visual hierarchy. The technology associated with the letterpress left the design feeling restricted and restrained as there was not as much room to move with the placement of type, the use of colour and also the style of type.
There was a very strict and formal arrangement of type, due in part to the need for the laying out of type by hand. A limited colour palette was also needed as to do more than one colour required more work to wash and change the colours in the machine and start all over again.
The grids created for letterpress were usually square and running horizontally and vertically. This created a rigid form and structure, which was simple to construct, as can be seen in figure 1.
Through digital technologies and software such as InDesign, the use of grids and visual hierarchy has changed dramatically. As can be seen in figure 2, there is much more freedom with the placement of text within the grid and much more freedom with the use of colour to create visual hierarchy.
With these new technologies we are able to make changes much more quickly and easily, with a click of a button or the swipe of a mouse. And with the creation of style guides within the visual hierarchy, these changes can be implemented to many different pages all at the same time. They can be changed over and over again before going to print, meaning that many different outcomes can be created and viewed before the finished product is actually created.
With the use of computers in the development of visual hierarchy and grid structures, there is more freedom to play with the way the type is displayed and presented. Type can be turned sideways or on an angle to provide a more interesting visual hierarchy for the viewer. The structure becomes more organic because of the ability to easily change anything with the click of a button.
Different fonts can also be explored and created, leading to a more interesting overall layout. Colour is another way in which digital technology has changed the way we view and use grids and visual hierarchy. Colour plays an important role in visual hierarchy, and using it well can grab the audience’s attention and could mean the difference between selling and not selling a copy of a publication.
All in all, the use of grids and visual hierarchy has come a long way from that of the letterpress. Digitalisation has provided more freedom and ease with which to create and view type, layout and publications.
- www.cleo.com.au – image one
www.koraorganics.com- image two
- www.murrayriver.com.au/pinnaroo/letterpress-printing-museum/- information on the history of the letterpress
- http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2013/02/26/creating-visual-hierarchies-typography/- information on visual hierarchy and grid systems