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5 Ways To Create A Focal Point

[themeone_drop_cap letter=”T” color=”accent-color2″ /]here are, of course, more than 5 ways to create a focal point in an image or design. The big picture idea behind creating a focal point is that you’re emphasizing something by using a contrast with what’s going on in the surrounding area. Contrast is difference.

The focal point of a design or image is the main thing that you want the viewer to see or understand. Everything else becomes a supporting character visually. You can create more than one focal point in a design and, depending on what your intention is, those focal points can either compete with each other or one can be greater in importance and the other secondary. It’s all in what your purpose is — what you’re trying to communicate. What I’ve included below are five of the methods for creating a focal point. These are fairly simple and should be obvious as you look at the examples.


Focal Point By Color

Just by using one of Itten’s 7 color contrasts you can easily bring attention to one or more elements in your design. If everything is fairly light in color, introduce a darker color. The darker color will stand out from the lightness. If you’re working mostly with neutral colors accents, add an element or two with a brighter, more saturated color to draw attention and create visual interest. If your color palette is dominantly cool hues, introduce an element in a warm hue and it will separate visually from the rest.


Focal Point By Scale

If everything is fairly small create something larger, and the viewers eye will land on that because it is different in scale. Conversely, if everything is large in the design by adding in something that’s quite small as a focal point you will bring attention to it. When all elements in a design are the same size even if they’re different in color and in shape you have to use a different means of creating a focal point.


Focal Point By Isolation

This method relies on the gestalt principle of proximity. We tend to group things that are positioned to close to each other into a single unit.  We will treat a group of things as one thing. (We do with with spoken and written language as well. In English, we speak of several things (plural) combined into a group (singular). Isolating something from the rest of the crowd will bring attention to it and away from the crowd. This is how headlines and pull quotes work on blogs and in magazine articles.


Focal Point By Pointing

You can arrange things so that they line up along an implied line and create a path of movement. Position the element you want to emphasize at the end of that movement, or in a way so that it interrupts that movement. The viewers eye will be directed along that path to that thing you want to focus on.


Focal Point By Framing

Frames create a boundary or border around something. We use frames all the time. We put margins or whitespace around the perimeter of a printed page to frame the type. We draw circles and bursts around things to bring attention to what’s inside the circles we put posters and paintings in frames to set them off from the surrounding wall space other ways of framing include cropping using borders. How we frame something is a clue to how we want to be interpreted. In interior design in architecture we use window treatments and ornamentation to frame forms. Frames create a transition in a design that sets the viewer up to understand that what is being framed is important.

In any shape or grouping of shapes, there is an automatic focal point at the visual center of the group or the shape. So any design page illustration photograph, has an automatic gravitational center that we immediately understand. We can use that gravitational center to position shapes and groups and lines within a design space. When the elements are positioned in the gravitational center of the design space which has a shape, the composition becomes very static. To create a dynamic quality in a design, move the focal point away from the center of the space to a comfortable position elsewhere in the design.

Not every design has a focal point. Not every design needs a focal point. We often use all over pattern to enhance to provide depth and texture. But if you’re trying to communicate an idea or call to action, or if you want a resting place for the eye to land in an environment, you will want to create focal points. One of the best ways two understand how to use focal points is to look for them in your every day surroundings.

A Design Assignment
Look for focal points in your everyday circumstances. Flip through a magazine or catalog or your email inbox, or take pictures of products, signs and billboards. Collect 5-7 examples of focal points. Pay attention to how focal point is achieved in each image. If you keep a design journal, swipe file, or common book, add the examples and make notes on what you observe. Share some of your observations here in the comments.

Alvalyn Lundgren

Alvalyn Lundgren is the founder and principal of Alvalyn Creative, an independent consultancy providing brand strategy design and bespoke illustration for more than 30 years. She is the creator of Freelance Road Trip — a business school and podcast for creative freelancers. She teaches design and design practice on the college level with design schools and programs.

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