Focal Point

Attracting Attention!

We live in a time where multiple venues fight to catch our attention.  Although billboards, television, are still players, the Internet is the largest draw for our attention.

A designer’s ability to capture the audience’s attention is critical to conveying their message successfully. This is where the focal point comes into play.

Focal Point & Hierarchy

The focal point in a design is the area where the eye is drawn first. To create further interest, the designer should include accents.

Accents are areas of importance, but they are not as important as the focal point. Think of this as a hierarchy; the focal point is most important; the accents have importance but to a lesser degree of the focal point.

Accents

Accents are an important aspect of focal point. Depending on how the accents on the picture plane are handled, your eye will move from the focal point across the remainder of the design. This type of movement can be achieved by varying the size of the shapes, the spacing of the objects, the colors, and values, all of which play an important role in creating movement.

As we will see later, sometimes it’s difficult to tell the focal point from the first accent!

Unity

Unity pulls a design together. If a design lacks unity it can feel incomplete or unintentional. Unity can be created by repeating shapes/forms, colors, values, patterns, texture, etc. Sometimes it’s as simple as adding a border around the design or adding a background value. It can be subtle or obvious but in any case, it should bring a sense of cohesiveness to the overall design.

A drawback to unity is if a design is overly unified it runs the risk of becoming stagnant. To avoid an over unified design, include areas of emphasis, as shown in the image below.

Example of an overly unified design.

Emphasis

Focal point and accents are important parts of emphasis. Emphasis is defined as standing out or different. Like unity, it can be created with shapes/forms, colors, value, etc., but it needs to call importance to itself by being different (think focal point and accents as these all tie together).

Focal point and accents are important parts of emphasis. Emphasis is defined as standing out or different. Like unity, it can be created with shapes/forms, colors, value, etc., but it needs to call importance to itself by being different (think focal point and accents as these all tie together).

Ways to Achieve Emphasis

The ways to achieve emphasis, by contrast, are endless. Just some of the ideas you could use include:

  • Change in Direction of the shapes or lines.
  • Isolating One Element
  • Making one Element Distorted or vice versa.
  • Change in Size of one object.
  • Change in Shape of one object. Geometric vs. Organic.
  • Changing the Color of one object.

Different ways to develop Focal Points

The focal point in a design can be developed through contrast, isolation, and/or placement. Let’s take a look at all three.

Contrast   By developing a visual element that contrasts with the overall emphasis of the composition will automatically draw the eye towards it.

Isolation

Which is the focal point? The white slide at the bottom, or the black, negative space in the middle of the slide?

The focal point is the isolated slide at the bottom of the layout, with the first accent in the center of the slides. The ambiguity between the focal point and the first accent is a great way to create visual tension in a design but needed to be created with clear intention.

When creating a focal point with Isolation make sure to have the focal point physically isolated from the majority of the items on the picture plane.

Placement   By placing several elements in a design and pointing them to a specific area or single element you force the viewer to focus on that spot.

Things to consider when developing a focal point.

Simplify the Focal Point  Before creating a design, ask yourself what do you want to stand out? If you want three, four, or five focal points, you’re breaking this rule. Don’t try to get everything into one design. Instead, try to remove things until you get to the heart of what you’re trying to capture. Keep in mind accents are great alternatives to attempting to have 5 focal points in one design!

Near the edge Don’t place the focal point so close to the edge of the picture plane that the viewer’s eye is lead off of the plane.

Don’t go dead center! A composition can get stagnant when the focal point is placed dead center (think bull’s eye). Once you’ve established your focal point, move it out of the center of the picture plane.
Focal points can be created by many compositional elements   It does not need to be in the center of the picture plane nor clearly defined; it can be a larger shape that pulls the eye into a smaller area; the negative area (see example below), created by value; etc.

Absence of Focal Point

Sometimes an artist doesn’t want a focal point. They use the repetition of a motif over the entire picture plane, which can create a lack of focal point. For example, the Abstract-Expressionist Lee Krasner wanted the viewer’s eye to move continuously around the picture plane. Fabric designs and wallpaper strive to lack a focal point.   Common places where a focal point would not be desired are in fabric and wallpaper designs.

Credits: Some of the information in this presentation comes from the book, Design Basics, Seventh Edition by David Lauer

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