How To Improve Direction in Your Designs

Direction is an often forgotten but never unnoticed principle of design. It is created using some or all of the elements of design—shape, scale, line, value, texture, color and space. Direction can be defined as the movement of the eye throughout a piece. It is an important principle because it guides the viewer through a design; from the first thing they notice on down, across or up to the last object, which should ultimately lead them back into the design so as to keep their eye on the piece.

So how do you position elements to guide your viewer? Take a look at the way the following designs implement the principle of direction.


Nonia on Ads of the World

While the copywriting leaves something to be desired, the use of direction in this ad is simple yet effective. The element of scale (the large hat) is used to draw the viewer in at the top and the yarn trails off the hat, into the rest of the ad. Creating the text out of the yarn was a great idea and then we end off with a pointer (pom pom) to the name of the company, just to make sure you don’t miss it. The only thing this design is lacking in terms of direction, is a guide back into the piece.

Water Kills on Ads of the World

Value—relationship between light and dark—is the largest contributor to direction in this ad. Our eyes are immediately drawn to the white shirt because it stands out the most against this dark background. Then we see the WASH logo, because it’s the next brightest object and continue on to notice the arms, pointing back at the figure. This is a great example of circular direction; it points us back into itself to keep us on the page. The gradient on the wall spotlighting the figure also focuses our attention on the man in the white shirt.

Lake Tahoe on Ads of the World

This is a nice ad for Lake Tahoe, which is a popular vacation spot on the California-Nevada boarder in the US. The logical place in our Western eyes to start in this image is at the top (because we read left to right top to bottom), but it also makes sense from a design standpoint—the top is where there is high contrast of value (white on dark blue) and it’s also where the information starts. We read the words, then follow the end of them off to the legs. The bottom leg leads us down into the details to find out more. But that’s where it leaves us, unfortunately. It would be ideal if we were led back up into the piece.

Tigo on Ads of the World

The two black phones provide a sort of boundary for our eyes and serve to frame the little phone charms. The gradient works toward this goal, too. Contrast in value is our biggest contributor to direction in this design. While cute, I would not say this design exemplifies a good use of direction because we are not lead to the logo and the pointer to the copy is not very strong (if it really exists at all).

Dad's Army on Ads of the World

It is good to study successful uses of an element or principle of design, but it is equally as helpful in developing your design sense to study bad design. I would not call this piece bad, but it would definitely go into the “Needs Improvement” category. The use of space and the overall layout is unmistakably juxtaposed with the huge machine gun, but the gun and the arrow in the top right lead the viewer right off the page without seeing what the ad is for. Arrows—whether purposefully created through digital shapes or crafted into the photography—can be a great aid in directing the viewer, just be aware where you are pointing them. Also unfortunate for this design is the visual weight of the gun; it is distinctly the heaviest object on the page, so our eye is drawn immediately to it. To improve the design, I would point the gun up at the text and definitely make the text darker. It’s elegant to have it in a light grey, but I doubt “elegant” is what this ad was going for.

About the Author

You’ll see me around the Interwebs as LaurenMarie, but you can just call me Lauren. I am a graphic designer in corporate America during the day and write for my blog, Creative Curio, in my”spare time”.

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13 Responses to How To Improve Direction in Your Designs

  1. micha149 February 14, 2008 at 12:35 am #

    “because we read right to left top to bottom” ?!?! ;-) I read from left to right….

    Nice info! I never saw my design from this angle before!

  2. Andy February 14, 2008 at 4:01 am #

    Great article!
    I’ll add another design principle to my ever-growing list of things to consider when reviewing my designs.

  3. Estéfany February 16, 2008 at 6:23 pm #

    It’s really important for us to keep in mind this simple (and so important) principle. Great article!
    *I guess the link for her blog is not working.

  4. Nubloo February 17, 2008 at 11:16 am #

    Great article, I enjoyed it very much! Thank you, very true and good insight. You might be interested in this article as well: http://nubloo.com/design/the-5×5-secret-rules-in-design-and-advertising-part-2-composition

  5. DamionKutaeff March 23, 2008 at 1:54 am #

    Hello everybody, my name is Damion, and I’m glad to join your conmunity,
    and wish to assit as far as possible.

  6. guru thilak March 27, 2008 at 5:38 am #

    Though i’m a desiner i was not so conscious about the directions you hav mentioned.It gave me a new direction for me in designing.its really a gr8 post.good examples as well.gr8 keep it up …

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  8. Warren August 13, 2008 at 12:07 pm #

    It occurs to me that the “Dad’s Army” ad might have benefited by putting the information text to the right of the machine gun (with the gun shifted leftward on the page), possibly with the title graphic running along the bottom of the page.

    That would allow the eye to be led to the text without having to point the gun upward, which IMO would not have been as good a photographic composition.

  9. Vusa September 4, 2008 at 6:15 am #

    I really appreciate your work about analysis. This is what every designer needs now and again coz sometimes we drown in our so called great ideas we forget about the basic things that make our work stand out I wish I can get more of your thoughts occasionally.

  10. AmyEileen Koester June 1, 2009 at 11:17 am #

    Great article, thanks! The specific analysis of each design’s direction was very helpful.

  11. Vicente June 1, 2009 at 1:02 pm #

    Really good…

  12. egypt design February 1, 2010 at 3:25 pm #

    wow, I like it especially
    “Value—relationship between light and dark”
    thanks for share this

  13. Raashid May 29, 2012 at 1:02 am #

    Hi nice one, can i re-post this in my blog (blog.wezile.com) send your feedback to @wezile:disqus  

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