The Role of Visual Hierarchy in Web Design

June 16, 2023
David Sunnyside

The Role of Visual Hierarchy in Web Design Guiding Users Attention

When users see visual elements arranged in an order that makes sense they're more likely to understand and engage with the design. This is known as visual hierarchy.

The key tools in creating a visual hierarchy are color, contrast, size and grouping. In this article we will look at how each of these factors can help to guide your website visitors' attention.


Color can signal importance, add emotion and emphasize specific elements. For example, bold colors can demand attention whereas soft and muted colors may suggest calmness.

In addition, color can help establish a hierarchy by communicating important information to users. For example, a website with breaking news will likely use red text to get people’s attention. In web design, colors communicate meaning to readers in the blink of an eye.

The size of an element is another way to establish visual hierarchy. Larger elements are more noticeable and are easier to recognize. This is why it’s so important to create designs that are well organized and follow a clear layout.


A clear visual hierarchy makes it easy for users to find what they’re looking for and aligns their product goals with business objectives. It also enables designers to create a sustainable workflow that delivers consistent, high-quality user experiences.

Color, size and shape are powerful ways to communicate hierarchy. For example, a bold, bright color attracts attention more than a dull one. Similarly, big elements stand out and are easier to read than small ones.

White space can be another way to establish hierarchy. For example, "Cory Arcangel on Pop Culture" is clearly below "New on Whitney Stories" because it has less white space. Using geometric shapes can add an exciting new level of visual communication to your designs, but it's important to remember that they can be overwhelming and distracting. So, make sure to use them sparingly and only for the most critical content.


If users encounter a page that feels too crowded with different elements, it can be difficult to determine where to begin looking first. This is where visual hierarchy comes in, as it can help guide the eye to important design elements.

One of the easiest ways to establish visual hierarchy is by size. Just like the classic saying “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” larger design elements stand out more and attract more attention. Larger font sizes, bold text, and varying sizes can all help emphasize the importance of a particular element.

White space is also a great way to set apart design elements and create visual clarity. If an element is surrounded by more white space, it will be perceived as being more important than an element that doesn’t have as much breathing room. Consistency is also key in visual hierarchy, as it can help build trust and familiarity with users while consistently aiding the goal of a product.


You've likely heard the saying "the squeaky wheel gets the grease," which is a good reminder that bigger elements tend to stand out more and attract users' attention. This is why designers use size as a marker of hierarchy in their designs. They make sure that important elements are enlarged to clearly distinguish them from less important ones. For example, headers are larger than body text.

Consistency is also a key element when it comes to visual hierarchy. It helps establish a clear flow that users can follow, so they don't get confused or distracted as they scan through a page. For this reason, it's best to keep a consistent font and style throughout a design.

Another way to test a design's visual hierarchy is by blurring it. A 20-pixel blurr reveals which elements are emphasized and how they're organized, as seen in this example from Spotify. The recently played section stands out in this design as the most important element due to its prominent location and strong color.

David Sunnyside
Co-founder of Urban Splatter • Digital Marketer • Engineer • Meditator
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