Updated on January 24, 2023

Establishing a Strong Focal Point in Your Design Projects

A focal point establishes the area of a design you want to draw the viewer to. We explain why it's essential, and how to implement it in your next project.

Magnifying glass over the words "in focus"

In just about any design you do, the most important thing you want to establish is the focal point. As a graphic designer your job is to communicate an idea or product to the viewer. Your design has to have a purpose behind it. Having a strong focal point will ensure you have established the area of a design you feel is most important.

To give you a stronger understanding of the focal point in design let's go over why it's essential for your work, and how you can be implementing it into your next project. There are many principles in design which can contribute to establishing a strong focal point. For instance contrast of color, text and size can play a key role in creating a good focal point. 

How to identify a focal point

When establishing a strong focal point, the first step you need to take is to understand what you're trying to get across to the viewer. What is the design intended to do? Should it sell a product, convey information or simply entertain? Graphic design is communication through different visual elements.

The next step to establishing a strong focal point is to keep your designs simple and uncluttered. You don't want to have so many things going on the viewer can't really figure out what they're suppose to be looking at. Consider the example below, which is simple, but contains enough variation and contrast to remain interesting: 

Typography used to turn the phrase "focal point" into an example of focal point

Using a focal point to create hierarchy

You need to find the key points of your design and allow those to stand out. The simplest example of a focal point is in the image above. If you have a completely white background, and just one element on it, that one element is going to be the focal point. Your eye is automatically drawn straight to it because it's the only thing on the page.

The use of white space or negative space on a composition like this is a great way to establish a focal point. You may have noticed in other designs, simplicity and the use of white space has become an obvious trend. That's because it works so well in creating a focal point for a design.As mentioned earlier, too much going on in a design will only confuse the viewer and will ultimately result in an unsuccessful project.

A focal point will also help to set up a clear hierarchy of the elements in your design. Hierarchy simply refers to the order in which you look at things, so basically the order of importance of the elements in a design. In order to achieve this, your design should really only have a single focal point in it. Establishing the focal point helps create the visual hierarchy in the order of which the elements should be viewed.

Focal point example used on a webpage to show hierarchy

In the image above you can see the same graphic element of "Focal Point" is still in the composition, but now there is a body of text, and the box elements that make up the left side. Your eyes will still most likely go the focal point graphic and then to the large body of text to the right, simply by the proximity of the body of text next to the graphical element. The focal point is the same, but now a hierarchy has been established.

Contrast helps establish a focal point

Contrasting elements can be used to create a focal point in your design. For instance, text is usually an attention grabber, and by having the focal point a completely different typeface than the rest of the elements it will help to catch the viewer's eye. You can utilize color, size and even spacing of the type to increase the emphasis on the textual element.

Another great way of creating a focal point is to use implied lines that are all sort of pointing to the focal point. This technique can be used to emphasize the focal point if you're working with a limited color palate or can't utilize contrast to help communicate your idea. This doesn't mean you should create a bunch of arrows pointing at your focal point, but you can use the positioning of other elements to all lead the viewer's eye to the focal point.

Contrast in the title page for Beasts of the Underworld

Focal point mistakes to avoid

Some very important things you want to steer clear of when designing a graphic that can really confuse the viewer are designs with too many colors.

  • Find a color palate that works for your particular design and what you're trying to communicate. 
  • Too many graphics can also hurt the layout or design. Sure, you may have created some really appealing elements but that doesn't mean they all should be crammed into this one piece of work. 
  • Inconsistent placement of the different elements within the design can also destroy the flow and muddy the focal point. 

As you begin working on your next graphic design project make sure you know what you want to communicate to the viewer and what your focal point is going to be. Without a distinct focal point the viewer may be lost, and no matter how beautiful your design is, it will be ineffective if the point was not communicated properly.

Learn more about design principles

It's up to you to decide how you're going to create a strong focal point for your design. To learn more about the importance of a focal point in graphic design, as well as the other vital principles check out Pluralsight's Graphic Design learning path