What’s the “Focal” Point?

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Have you ever looked at an ad and wondered what its point was? Maybe the point was buried somewhere in all that copy. Maybe you weren’t sure whose ad it actually was because it included multiple logos that were the same size. Maybe the ad kind of looked like three ads—like an ancient triptych and you were confused who was in charge of it all. If an ad is designed properly with attention to hierarchy, it will draw your eye to the most important information: the focal point. 

Designers must intentionally create the Focal Point

A designer’s job is to lead the reader’s eye around a page. Every element is a cue to the reader where to start and where to head next. Many factors come into play when establishing the hierarchy of all the elements on a page: Size, scale, height, color, contrast, foreground elements, background elements, type weight, even the direction in which a person’s eye is looking in an image.

The very first step of all this is to establish focal points, which is much easier said than done. In order for a layout to be successful, each focal point should be unique. All points also need to be ordered visually by importance. We call this order “visual hierarchy,” which is very much like the royal hierarchy. The king sits up at the top. The queen, who looks similar to the king and is also very important, sits as a close second. The dukes, bishops, earls and all of the king’s knights follow in proper order so the entire aristocracy functions harmoniously.

The Image Shoppe Trade Show Guide

A King’s Court

To show how focal points work, we’ll use examples from our Ultimate Guide To Trade Show Marketing. As you can see above there are higher interest points (larger circles) but each one has its own look. Just like a higher royal court, the king, queen and bishop are all a bit different. So is the higher focal points on this 2-page spread. When these points don’t visually compete, they give the reader a sense that each section will have fresh and unique content. The similar colors and styling show that this diverse kingdom is still united under one banner. In the roman character world, we should always order the subjects for the viewer top to bottom and left to right because this is how we digest content. 

This visual hierarchy goes beyond just a monarchy metaphor—ancient Egyptians understood how to use scale to give proper weight to the main characters in their hieroglyphs. Below is an example of how the Egyptians set the order of their panels of writing. You can see the pharaoh’s figure is taller than every other person. Also, notice how everyone nearby is facing it. 

Panel from Book of the Dead

Part of a panel from a version of the Book of the Dead. Photo: Dalya Alberge

Reader Eye Path

An example of the eye path of a reader who is quickly scanning content. Notice how the focal points are ordered in a way to be pleasing when reading left to right.  

The Quickest Quest  

Whatever platform your brand is being featured on, it needs to be creative, simple and quick to understand. Adweek reported in 2017 that Facebook found their users only spend an average of 1.7 seconds with any piece of mobile content on the platform, compared to 2.5 seconds on desktop. That means you need to direct your readers to the main point quicker than ever. Above is a good example of how to use easily digestible points along with healthy negative space to keep the user from feeling overwhelmed in their quest to find what you are talking about in a few seconds. The fact that you have read this far means you are interested in this subject… thanks for your time and interest. 😉

Proceed with caution before adding extra content

You must earn respect and trust from the reader before placing supplemental content on a page. How do you do this? By getting to the main point right away. This allows your more-involved content to have a better chance of earning the reader’s time and attention. See below as to why LESS is going to get you MORE down the road. Attempting to say it all in one shot is only going to cause frustration for everyone involved.

Eye Path of Reader Skimming

An example of the eye path of a reader who is moderately scanning and reading. This kind of attention can only be earned by first establishing focus on your main points of interest. 

Busy Design Layout

Example of layouts with little-to-no regard on focal points or the reader’s time and good judgment. 

A Fool’s Errand  

The graphic above can be considered a reminder of the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated. This piece is a standard sample of what we are commonly bombarded with. When everything “has” to be on a page, then the viewer will digest next to nothing on that page—and why should they? Think of it this way: It’s much less welcoming to be greeted when entering a room with a bunch of shouting than it is with a polite “hello.” When we’re surrounded by less chaos, we are more likely to pay attention to our surroundings. 

When viewers are treated with dignity and respect by your brand, they are likely to return again and again; in other words, you don’t need to bombard them with tons of salesy messages to make a sale. A design layout is no different—one should only sell primarily through one point and include only the most critical info as secondary points. If the viewer is interested, and the proper information is provided, they’ll know where to find you.

Graphic Design Focal Point

Ascend Your Viewers to the Throne 

So what now? How do you get your prospective clients to focus on your brand and what you want to say? How do you know when you’re saying too much? How do you bring order to the court that is your company’s brand? If you desire to rule your industry’s empire, then we would love to have an audience with you. We have led many a successful campaign which have been recorded here. If you do seek our lance as well as our counsel, an electronic courier awaits you here. We look forward to raising your brand’s messaging to legendary status very soon!