Focal Point - the power of one
Updated: Sep 8
One singular idea, clearly focused and well expressed, holds great power. What’s the one powerful idea you want to communicate? What’s the one deep emotion you hope to stir? What one action you want readers to take?
From massive billboards to pocket-sized business cards, a solid design has one primary focal point that anchors the layout and defines its purpose. It could be a headline, an illustration, a photo, or even a single word. But leading with one strong point of visual or intellectual interest pulls your reader into the rest of your story. Everything else in the layout becomes a supporting actor.
You can emphasize your focal point and set it apart in multiple ways. Consider:
• Scaling up its size
• Giving it added weight, with bold typestyles and/or colors
• Choosing contrasting colors (light/dark, warm/cool, neutral/saturated)
• Using contrasting elements (round/angular, smooth/textured, dense/spacious)
• Isolating it by surrounding it with a generous amount of negative (open) space
• Placing it in the foreground
• Centering it
• Using leading lines to direct readers’ eyes in its direction
• Cropping images to amplify the desired idea or concept
And of course you can apply more than one of these techniques at the same time.
To de-emphasize a competing element, do the opposite. Make it smaller or lighter weight. Surround it with elements of similar color, shape, texture, density, etc. Group it with other elements. Place it off-center. Place it in the background. (Objects appear further away when they are smaller and lighter than objects in the foreground. The illusion of depth can also be simulated by use of overlapping objects and shadowing.)
We’ve all seen unstructured layouts where content appears to be randomly thrown on the page without regard for how the reader might approach it. A strong, well conceived idea and visual focal point can serve as your North Star, guiding design as well as copy decisions. And importantly, it can help your reader join you at the ‘trailhead’ as you walk them through to your conclusion or call to action. Keep it simple: One. Focal. Point.
1) Identify focal points in the designs and page layouts you see throughout your day. Pay attention to what first draws your eye. Deconstruct how the focal point is emphasized (or not) in each piece, considering the bulleted points above.
2) As you begin your next graphic design project, make every effort to distill your message into one clearly focused idea. Then brainstorm and explore how to best express that concept visually. Let the fun begin!