Project 2: Visual Hierarchy

I. Initial Research

The Grandel in St. Louis, Missouri is a performing arts/concert venue with a capacity of 600 and facilities for private events and a restaurant/bar. Open Air, however, is a series of concerts taking place outside the Grandel in light of the current pandemic.

Images inside and outside the Grandel

The interior spaces appear grand and energizing, while the cobbled walls and shingled roofs make the outdoor appearance feel more aged and historically significant. Because the events take place from 6:00–10:00pm, the image showing the outdoor bench space at night helps give a sense of the vibrance of the atmosphere.

Open Air at the Grandel

3 Adjectives: Vibrant, Lively, Joyous

Short description: An opportunity to safely come together as a community and experience the joy of live music, food, and more.

II. Exercises with Text

In the next step of the assignment, I retyped the event text content into illustrator, and began to experiment following the guidelines provided:

8.5 x 11 inch paper, vertical orientation

Content in text form, flush left, rag right; this is fixed and cannot be changed.

Neue Haas Grotesk Display Pro (Light 45, Roman 55, Medium 65, Bold 75)

I also began to think about the hierarchy of importance of this content, considering things like whether the date/time of a performance is equally as significant as who’s performing, and what order audiences would take in information at depending on the characteristics of the text formatting. Pictured to the left, I broke the content down into 3 main sections:

Title/Subtitle, Performers, and Event Info, which I found both toward the top and bottom of the page.

1 — Stroke Weights

Select any two stroke weights.
Set the type (17/21) in the lighter of those two weights.
Select certain lines of type to make bolder, basing your decisions on
content hierarchy. The full line, not individual words, will be bold.
No linespacing or shifting the type.

Notable iterations:

After printing out the layout on the left and looking at it from a distance, the bolded lines in the header seem to work well in emphasizing the title and creating a stronger sense of hierarchy. The right composition, however, is an example of poor use of stroke weight, as the light and roman weights do not differ enough to communicate any difference in hierarchy.

2 — Line Spacing

Select one stroke weight.
Set all the type (17/21) in that weight.
Insert one linespace (the return key) between any two lines of type,
based on hierarchy; you may do this as often as you wish.
You may not insert more (or less) than one linespace between
any two lines of type.


On the left, the amount of spaces stretch the content out too much, making it cumbersome to read and hard to differentiate between types of content. Meanwhile, on the right, it is much easier to categorize and digest the content, although the weight is too bold.

3 — Two Flush-Left Margins

Select one stroke weight.
Shift lines of type horizontally left or right, using the tab key,
resulting in two flush-left margins.
No linespacing.

Notable iterations:

The leftmost layout uses margins in such a way that prioritizes the general sections of the content, creating easy “entryways” into the text. The right, however, takes on a rhythmic form that almost reflects the nature of the music being played at the event.

4 — Three Flush-Left Margins

Select one stroke weight.
Shift lines of type horizontally left or right, using the tab key,
resulting in three flush-left margins.
No linespacing.

Notable iterations:

On the left, I used the second margin to create an extra layer of hierarchy, dedicated to logistics like the date/time/place, but didn’t follow through with the address on the bottom. The layout on the right then aims to use the margins mainly to distinguish between types of content.

5 — Color

Start with a final solution to one of the previous four exercises;
explore how one color can help complement your hierarchical decisions.
Try color in the type in addition to black. Start with one color. Sparingly.
See how/if color can emphasize hierarchy.

Approaching the color aspect from a hands-on approach, I first collected swatches from magazines and tried to compose 3-color palettes. Although I wasn’t completely satisfied with the specific color combinations I created, I felt that this exercise was helpful in pushing me to consider color pairings I wouldn’t normally pick from a digital spectrum.

I also experimented with watercolor, a medium I’ve always enjoyed working with. Rather than solid swatches, I found that the way the paints mix and swirl created a vast variety of different hues to choose from, even within one 3-color palette. Because of the saturation of the paints and the vibrant nature of Open Air, I gravitated toward warmer, brighter palettes, although I feel I could have explored more with more subdued hues.

I then scanned these physical swatches and took them to Illustrator to develop digital swatches from the palettes I felt most strongly about, sometimes adjusting the colors to achieve brighter tones than the scans were able to produce.

Magazine, watercolor, and digital swatches

Working from the digital swatches, I first experimented with adding color to just the black text on white:

Exploring spot color on otherwise black & white text

I then began to try different colored backgrounds, experimenting with color contrasts that would make the text pop but not jeopardize legibility.

Exploring background color + colored text

6 — Scale

Select any two stroke weights.
Use a change of point size to emphasize hierarchical differences.
Be brave and try much larger and much smaller sizes.
As stated above, consider changing the order of the information,
as well as the position of chunks of text.
Horizontal shifts and linespacing are optional.
Think carefully, but don’t shy away from bold moves.

In this exercise, I took into consideration where on the page I wanted to place the most emphasis. Although I considered giving the spotlight to the artists performing, I felt that most of the draw of Open Air came from the idea of the event itself: A chance to enjoy live music in a spacious environment. That then brought up the question of whether I should leave more “open air” on the page itself or place greater effect on the actual words.

I started to notice that many of my initial iterations became very top-heavy; thus, I also explored putting the title at the bottom but having it command enough attention to still be the first thing read.

Initial explorations with scale

Additional Color Explorations — Class 11.13

During class, a peer pointed out that the orange hue I had used in the background of one of my iterations seemed to stand out on the wall; I took note that saturated, warm tones were generally more eye-catching in the examples brought to class.

It was also pointed out that everybody had essentially taken the same approach with the iterations posted on the wall and on Figma: a solid colored background and colored text. Given an extra 10 minutes to create something significantly different from our peers’ examples, I began working with an existing color palette of mine. Inspired by the gradients achieved by the watercolor, I experimented with organic curves and subtle color gradients and thinking about how I could point the attention to the text. I also kept in mind my adjectives Vibrant, Lively, and Joyous.

Two of my strongest iterations from the in-class exercise

Although these were quick iterations made without an extremely high level of thought, I was encouraged by the feedback I received describing how the forms and lines contributed to a sweeping sense of movement.

7 — Image

Using an iteration to one of the previous exercises, consider the
role an image might play in communicating the content’s message.

The image may cover the entire page and sit behind the type. Or the image
may occupy part of the page, while the type occupies the other part. What’s
the role of negative space? Of compositional tension?

As I began to look for images, I thought about the types of keywords I’d use in the search bar: Did I want to name and thus show the music explicitly, with music notes and/or an instrument? Or could I set the context through color and other implications? Since the event is titled “Open Air,” how do I convey a sense of open space through imagery combined with text?

By searching for things like “outdoor music,” “jazz,” and “outdoor lighting,” I found a few initial images:

Using some of the scale exercises on 8.5" x 11", I made a couple quick iterations before moving onto tabloid:

Because I was also excited to keep pushing the use of watercolor as well, I created some gradients/textures using colors I associated with my adjectives and the overall atmosphere of the event. although I didn’t have a clear sense of what specifically I might use them for, I scanned these in and scalled them up in Illustrator.

I first explored the idea of using a couple textures within the title text, and enjoyed the uniqueness of the gradations in the context of larger posters:

Created using masks in Illustrator
Iterations using watercolor masked text for the title

Aside from just in the text, I also tried using the watercolor as the sole background, and found that the colors set a vibrant and lively mood, but I felt that it wouldn’t give readers a sense of what the event was about. The small white text on the far left layout also began to blend too much into the background; nonetheless, I appreciated how the colors in themselves constructed a composition and began to communicate an exciting atmosphere.

Using watercolors as a background

Iterations for class:

In Class Feedback:

  • The first image shown is engaging, but doesn’t work as well in the context of a poster
  • Although the watercolor does not give much contextual information about the event, it is engaging and eye-catching
  • Address placement is a little confusing on the first one
  • Considering the adjectives, the imagery feels a bit too serene in the second and fourth posters
  • Try to flip the hierarchy; instead of making “Open Air” the most prominent, focus on the band names
  • Push the contrast in hierarchy
  • Experiment with breaking the grid & margins

As I kept trying to develop the posters further, I felt myself struggling to determine a specific direction to head in. I had taken efforts to flip the hierarchy, but I wasn’t sure if I would commit to the composition; to add, I was also unsure of which image to move forward with. While I felt the saxophone silhouette gave more nonverbal information about the event, it didn’t feel as lively or vibrant as I’d been reaching for. Meanwhile, the watercolor provided intriguing textures and gradations, but would be less clear in terms of context. The different possibilities left me feeling a bit stuck and directionless.

Two compositions that attempted to flip the hierarchy

Office Hours Feedback:

  • Keep pushing the contrast of the text hierarchy
  • Challenge the edges of the page; try being less respectful of margins
  • Watercolor background seems to be more satisfying & interesting

After receiving more feedback in office hours, I decided to create more watercolor textures, as all of mine from the previous iterations had been rectangular. This time, I went for ragged, organic, and bleeding edges that would create their own margins when used as the background.

Additionally, I kept pushing the band name text size larger than I’d dared to before, as I realized that in lieu of a clear image showing musical instruments, the band names would be the main source of context for readers. On the other hand, I was still challenged by the chunk of text with the address. With the band names taking up the majority of the space, I had some trouble including additional information without making the poster feel too busy or convoluted. The dates and names also created a strong two-column composition that I wasn’t sure whether to follow or break.

When it came to printing, I realized that my watercolor textures were a bit too small; although I kept scanning it at a higher and higher dpi, the image would always appear slightly grainy when printed. However, I felt that because of the nebulous nature of the paint, this would not be as noticeable. I was glad, however, that the color did not seem to take on any major differences when printed.

My (Tentative) Final Poster:

Final Crit Feedback:

  • The address info in the top left almost disappears; there’s not enough emphasis to make it readable/legible
  • The placement & lack of legibility of the address makes it feel like an afterthought
  • If possible, some of the test in the address can be taken out; since it’s a local, in-person event, most people would know where The Grandel is or how to find it
  • More emphasis should be placed on the website as well
  • There could be more connection between the “Open Air” title and the band names
  • The way the watercolor creates new margins and an edge for the paper works well; the watercolor in general was a success

Based on the feedback I got, I made some revisions to the address text and stroke weight. With the freedom to remove some text, I took out the last line of The Grandel’s address, as I felt it unnecessary to state that it was in Missouri. I then increased the stroke weight and size of “The Grandel” as well as the website link. Finally, I decided to also up the stroke weight of the “Open Air” title and give it more visual connection to the band names.

My Final Poster:

Reflecting on this project, I feel grateful for the restrictions given early on. As someone who has never considered poster design to be a strength, the chance to experiment with stroke, spacing, margins, scale, etc. made a sometimes overwhelming process feel approachable and manageable. I was challenged a lot by the idea of taking risks and opening up the possibilities, and I find it interesting that my final product looks nothing like I could have envisioned. Because I tend to get tunnel vision and focus too much on one solution early on, this project helped me learn the value in iterating and exploring as many options as possible, and I will keep this in mind in future projects.



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