What is Emphasis?

Emphasis refers to the element(s) on a page that give precedence over everything else in a design – some may refer to it as the focal point of a design. Like contrast, emphasis is probably what the audience notices first, usually, because it is the larger element on a page. It invites your audience to see an enhanced part of the design. When you take an image of something, you go in knowing what you are trying to focus on; you may zoom in on it and snap! If you pay closer attention, you’ll notice that you emphasized on an area and everything else is relative to it and is as important as the focal point for your photograph. When you are creating a design, you are making a conscious effort to create a focal point and having the surrounding elements help communicate the idea to your audience.

Using Emphasis

To identify emphasis, look at a design and see if you can find what is primary, secondary, tertiary, and so forth. This will lead you to recognize the visual order within a design. You will be able to establish a clear focal point. Emphasis can also be achieved with the help of other principles. You may want to add contrast to your emphasized element to bring it out more. You may use repetition to let the audience now that the emphasized element that has been repeated needs your attention. Whatever the case may be, proper emphasis is important in showing a connection to the overall message.

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Photography can really help with understanding emphasis. Have a camera ready. It doesn’t matter whether it is your camera on your phone, a small digital camera, or a high-end camera. Go out and start snapping photographs of whatever you see. The idea is to set your composition up to have a focal point. When you are done, see if you can incorporate what you learned in a graphic design setting. Make one of your photographs the focal point and try to include elements that help tell your story.

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It's quite understandable you want to jump right in and experiment on what you just learned. Slow down and remember the following:

  • Make only one focal point
  • Clearly emphasize the focal point. Other principles like contrast and repetition can help.
  • Once a focal point has been established, try to have an obvious visual order throughout your design.
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When you are ready to see what all this talk is about, simply click here to browse through a few examples that illustrate emphasis. Remember that once you understand these principles, they can be utilized to express all forms of art.