Design Theory: Hierarchy

With the design theory we have covered already, you have probably noticed a common theme. Those theories are all applied in the hopes of creating a consistent hierarchy of information. Why is hierarchy so important? It determines how information is interpreted. The same piece of content with different hierarchy applied can communicate completely different messages. Take this example:

The same quote has two different applications of hierarchy through varying font sizes. In the first the emphasis is placed on the word “perception” and the phrase “case to see”. In the second the emphasis is given to “art” and “familiar”. By simply varying the size of the text two different interpretations or meanings are applied to the same quote. This is why it is so important to always look back at your work to see what message you are highlighting and question if it’s the best one.

As you consider your previous work, you will need to approach the hierarchy from both a macro and micro viewpoint. First you want to look at the hierarchy you are presenting of your skills. Work that is stronger should be highlighted more prominently while work that may be weaker should be minimized in importance. One way that this type of hierarchy comes into play is in the categorization of your projects. Looking at all of your work you need to think about different ways to categorize the individual pieces and then determine which is the best option. You might, for example classify your work as print and digital, or direct mail and marketing materials. You may also want to consider how this categorization will change throughout your program as you add pieces from other courses. Maybe you will be adding in fundraising plans, grant proposals and an operational budget. In that example you may want to be able to categorize by your different skill sets of “Marketing” and “Fundraising”.

One of the great things about creating your portfolio as a website is that you have the flexibility to easily change anything about it later on. Hopefully as you progress in the Arts Administration program you will gain a better understanding of what type of skills your future employers will be most interested in and can make adjustments to your website to highlight those strengths.

Next you want to look at each individual piece and make sure one final time that the hierarchy in that particular design is communicating the most information first. You may find that something you loved 3 or 4 weeks ago you now feel like could be adjusted to be stronger. That’s the great part about taking time away from your own work–it’s like you can look at it with fresh eyes the second time around.

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