Why Does Visual Contrast Matter?

DesignPrinciples_WhyDoesContrastMatterIf you have ever taken a photography class or a graphic design class, you probably got it drilled into you: “MAKE SURE YOU HAVE CONTRAST!” Maybe it seems apparent, but contrast is one of the most fundamental principles of design. Besides the fact that contrast creates a much more visually appealing picture, it is also easy on the eyes (try to think of a time when you saw someone give a presentation, and they put yellow text on a white background! Talk about a headache!

So how do you create contrast? Here are a few tips (and many of them come from graphic design guru Robin Williams’ book, The Non-Designer’s Design Book):

-Make different elements of a document SIGNIFICANTLY different. That goes for color, font size, typeface, shapes, etc. Think about it, if you use a 12-point font in one place and a 13-point font in another, it is so similar, the reader will think you made a mistake. If you use two typefaces that are really similar (or two colors), the same phenomenon happens. So make them obviously different. Always.

-When working in black and white, make sure that you use the entire scale of black and white in your photo. This means that the blackest black and the whitest white should show up at least somewhere in the document. If your whitest white or darkest black look a hint gray, adjust the contrast. Trust me, it will look better.

-Don’t do ALL CAPS to create contrast. You are much better off just increasing the font size. Generally speaking, people don’t like looking at all capital letters. It can look like you are yelling and, more importantly, it can actually be harder to read, especially for large blocks of text.

-Avoid highlighting too many things to create contrast. The general rule of thumb is that no more than 10% of your document should be highlighted (like, if you were highlighting headings). Once you start going crazy with highlighting, nothing seems highlighted any more.

-Don’t be afraid to use large font sizes for titles and headings (and small sizes for body text). You can get away with 30-point titles (or larger) in some documents and body text often looks best if it is around 10-point font (not the standard 12). And you can even use a 7- or 8-point font on small documents like business cards. Crazy, I know, but it just looks better.