Design in advertising relies on a concept thousands of years old. Hierarchical scale is “a technique used in art, mostly in sculpture and painting, in which the artist uses unnatural proportion or scale to depict the relative importance of the figures in the artwork.” In layman’s terms, “The bigger it is, the more important.”

(Guess which fellow is the Pharoah in this Egyptian artwork. *Hint: He loves fancy hats.)

The concept is simple when looking at the panel above. Artisans used scale to enable their audience to pick out Gods, Kings and common men. The Pharoah is the most important man/god in this piece, therefore he is the biggest. His wife might be smaller and his servants or enemies would be the smallest figures. Understanding the hierarchy within advertisements is just as simple. Let’s take a look at a typical ad layout below.

Hierarchy in Print

Most ads seek to tell a story and, as a picture speaks 1000 words, they mostly feature pictures. The story or product is the most important thing on the page, so it is largest. Taglines or messages tend to come second, reinforcing what the image communicates. The logo is never the largest item on the page and rarely seeks attention. Think of the logo as a navigational device. “Oh, I like that knife/car/purse. Where can I buy it? Oh, that company.” The way the ad is laid out seeks to draw your eye through the ad. We read top to bottom, left to right, so a majority of our ads are going to shove secondary information and fine print to the bottom of the page. Creating an intriguing and eye-catching ad is key to capturing an audience and correct hierarchy is necessary in order to do so.


Hierarchy over the Web

Hierarchy in Websites is easy to understand. Although websites strive to out-do one another and evolve, their basic hierarchy hasn’t changed and never will; the bigest item on the page is its main focus. For the website above, the largest image is the main slider, so that’s where their main sales push is going to be. This website in particular is looking to build a social culture, therefore they’re pushing a hashtag and public meetup. Below the main push, is the secondary drivers. In this case, it is their product categories. As you make your way down the page, you get farther and farther from their main focus, until you hit their mailing list and footer. Websites are constructed as funnels, trying to guide you into an interior page where you can purchase an item or read an article (and view 20 ads). The main push takes up the entire page, while secondary and tertiary funnels are smaller and forced to share space.


The next time you’re putting together a print ad for your own company, remember that hierarchy is a viewer’s unspoken guide to navigating your ad. Hierarchy is something all humans unconciously follow, so use it wisely to direct your viewer to your main focus.

– Love 360