In this lesson, you will learn about the Emphasis principle.

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Visual Communications

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What's Covered

Welcome to today’s lesson on emphasis. This lesson will cover why emphasis is important in design and showcase a few examples of it in practice. Specifically, this lesson will cover:

  1. Defining Emphasis
  2. Establishing Emphasis

1. Defining Emphasis

Emphasis is the most prominent element or focal area in a design.

Term to Know

    • Emphasis
    • Emphasis is the most prominent element or focal area in a design.

Emphasis is going to be a guide for the designer to apply a focal point or area of interest for the viewer. Emphasis is important because it will allow the designer to effectively convey a message or an idea by dictating where the viewer's eye should go.

2. Establishing Emphasis

Design principles are interdependent, which is another way of saying that each principle is mutually dependent on another, and emphasis can be established by using two of the principles, like contrast and proximity.

So in the example above, contrast is being used to effectively create an area of interest. The dark silhouettes of the insects on top of the flower are clearly separated by using a lighter blurry background.

Now look at the painting below, called Nighthawks by Edward Hopper.

It uses proximity to distinguish between the couple having a conversation with the waiter and the man dining by himself.

So proximity not only creates a point of interest inside the diner, but it also creates additional focal points by grouping different elements together and creating emphasis in the piece. So you have emphasis on the interior of the diner and you also have emphasis on the man dining by himself, or the couple having a nice chat with the waiter there.

Finally, take a look at a the example below of the music performance.

Even though this is just a photo of the event, you can see that they clearly used lighting in a very specific manner that resulted in high contrast between the singer in the foreground and the background elements. Plus it uses proximity to leverage her status and importance. So this again, comes together to effectively create emphasis on the singer and not the crowd or any other element in either the foreground or background. So pretty interesting use of all these principles.


That concludes our lesson on defining emphasis and seeing examples of emphasis in practice.  Emphasis is created by using proximity and contrast.  

Keep up the learning and have a great day!


  • Emphasis

    Emphasis is the most prominent element or focal area in a design.