The important principles of visual communication

In last week’s article we had seen the important elements of visual communication. And you might want to read it before moving forward since i will be referring to it in several occasions.

Today we will discuss about the important principles we need to take into account in order to make our visual messages more effective. These principles are universal across the visual culture and applicable not only to design but also art & photography.

  • Focal Point
The important principles of visual communication   Heart By seyed mostafa zamani

Heart By seyed mostafa zamani

The most important thing in a visual layout is having a focal point. That’s the place where you want to guide your audience attention.

The most important rule about the focal point is to simply have one.

That sounds a bit obvious. But having none (or even more than one), will confuse your viewers. And they won’t know which information they need to process first, or where to focus their attention.

Think of the focal point as the beginning of a visual chain if you like.


  • Contrast
The important principles of visual communication   Uris Library Stacks by eflon on Flickr

Uris Library Stacks by eflon on Flickr

Lack of contrast will make a layout or composition boring and dull.

Creating contrast can be achieved by combining opposing elements, like light and dark values, empty with filled space, highly saturated colors with desaturated ones etc.

Examine the elements we discussed in the previous article and you will certainly can come up with several ways to achieve contrast using them.

However you do it, it will help your composition stand out.

  • Balance

Most non designers and new designers confuse the term balance with absolute symmetry.

Think of balance as visual weight in your composition, we need our layout to be visually balanced unless our purpose is to unsettle our viewers.

The important principles of visual communication   Demoiselle en OR

Demoiselle en OR by alpha du centaure on Flickr

Balance can be symmetrical, asymmetrical or radial. In symmetrical balance each side of a bisected design, must be exact mirror of the other. This will make the design appear more conservative and traditional maybe too formal, and sometimes unimaginative and boring.

Asymmetrical balance is more visual appealing and interesting. Bisecting our design again we’ll find that sides are not mirroring each other anymore. So to achieve it we need to take into account the visual weight of our elements, and try to balance them out.

For example let’s take space we discussed in a previous article. Positive space tends to weight heavier in our eyes than negative space. Filling up everything with information in a layout will overwhelm and tire the viewer, so we need to balance things out by leaving plenty of negative space as well. In the case of text that translates to a bit more space between each line, at the start of a paragraph etc.

In radial balance the fulcrum lies in the center, and they are often associated with spiritual meanings.

  • Movement

We saw how essential the focal point is in order to grab our viewer’s attention. Now that we have it our next mission is to guide their eyes in our composition.

We can control the eye’s flow using lines, not necessarily visible ones. Lines can create movement, and depending on their style we can then communicate different visual messages.

Horizontal lines for example can define a flow from right to left or vice versa. Vertical lines can communicate inspirational upward motion, or downward movement. Diagonal tend to be more exciting and dynamic movement etc.

  • Rhythm
The important principles of visual communication   Ritmo by Cris Valencia

Ritmo by Cris Valencia

To achieve rhythm we are using repeating elements like patterns in our compositions. Either regular or irregular they will create some sort of movement.

For instance repeating a color or being consistent with some graphic elements, even by using the same fonts for specific things like for example the headlines, that will generate rhythm. Even this styled box every now and then on the post tries to generate rhythm.

Having rhythm will not only result in consistency across our composition. It will also help us to control the viewers’ eyes flow in our composition.

Perspective gives us the sense of depth. It’s a kind of movement if you like from the foreground to background elements of our composition. We can achieve it using the horizon line, relative sizes, linear movement and atmospheric value.

For example moving the horizon line closer to the bottom will give the sense that the distance is shorter. We perceive smaller objects to be more far than bigger ones etc.

  • Unity

Last but not least is unity. A good composition or layout must be consistent, and all its parts should be working together. To achieve this, the parts must be having visual links or relationship to each other, and also consistency in their rhythm.

The important principles of visual communication   The Count by Kevin Law

The Count by Kevin Law

If you enjoyed and found useful this article, feel free to comment and also don’t be shy to ask if you have any questions!