NHS Designs

special stress laid upon, or importance attached to, anything; intensity or force of expression, action, etc.

related concepts

  • dominance
  • focal area
  • visual emphasis using contrast

Graphic Design Principles of 
			  Visual Design


Emphasis is used by artists to create dominance and focus in their work.

Artists can emphasize color, value, shapes, or other art elements to achieve dominance.

Various kinds of contrast can be used to emphasize a center of interest.

Emphasis in Fine Art

Henri de Toulouse Lautrec - At the Moulin Rouge
Henri de Toulouse Lautrec - "At the Moulin Rouge", 1892/1895

The emphasis in de Toulouse-Lautrec's painting is on the atmosphere and the strange lighting and color in a Paris cabaret. Actually, we are drawn into the five-member group of people seated at the table, where emphasis is on conversation among friends. This center of interest is otherwise known as a focal area.

Focal areas emphasize the most important aspect of a work of art. Visual emphasis on a focal area can be achieved by using the strongest light and dark value contrasts. It can also be developed by using other strong contrasts of art elements, such as shape.

Source: Elements and Principles of Design: Student Guide with Activities, published by Crystal Productions


Emphasis in Graphic Design

Emphasis is also known as dominance in graphic design.

What is it?

  • The first thing the eye sees on a design.
  • Traditionally this was the central part of the design, from which all other parts radiated.

Why is important?

  • Design is to manipulate the viewer; dominance is where the viewer is to start looking
  • There is an order in a design. You want the viewer to follow the correct direction, getting information in the correct order. To do this you need to force them to a specific start point on the design.
  • It gets the viewer's attention.

How to achieve it

Through the use of some elements:

  • Color (Red being the best.)
  • Image
    • Shocking
    • Weird
    • Controversial
    • Sexual
  • Text or Words
    • Shocking
    • Weird
    • Controversial
    • Sexual
  • Contrast (Contrasting colors, e.g. black on white)
  • Size (Bigger image vs. smaller)

What is dominant here?

Variable Factors

A number of design components affect or modify what we see, but are not constant because they represent changeable relationships between the viewer and the scene. These relationships are called variable factors. Such factors as scale, proportion, distance, observer position, atmospheric conditions, light, seasons, and motion are important considerations which the designer should be aware of and which may be used effectively in proposed designs.

  • scale
  • proportion
  • distance
  • observer position
  • atmospheric condition
  • light
  • seasons
  • motion


    • Be careful that your dominant element doesn’t overwhelm the whole image. Too much dominance and the viewer will see nothing else.
    • A view may contain more than one dominant feature: two objects of equal visual influence are said to be codominant. Many dominant features in a view tend to be distracting; the eye is drawn from one to another without the opportunity to focus on one major element.

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