Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures: Visual Hierarchy

Time-Frame: 2 weeks

Chosen Project Content: Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures

Tools: 8.5x11 inch paper, vertical orientation, flush left, rag right, Neue Haas Grotesk Typeface

Research & Understanding Audience

Mission Statement

“Connect celebrated authors with the community, elevate civic discourse, and inspire creativity and a passion for the literary arts. Our commitment to knowledge, learning, integrity, and artistic excellence guides and informs our work. We endeavor to inspire members of diverse communities by providing opportunities to experience authors who speak on issues that reflect our values such as justice, compassion, civic responsibility, acceptance, courage, and equity.” — https://pittsburghlectures.org/about/

I first researched what the goal of Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures is, and the 3 main points they mentioned is striving to connect celebrated authors with the community — which means they are targeting the entire Pittsburgh community as their audiences for different programs and especially focus on including diverse communities, elevate civic discourse — so discuss and bring attention to important social and civic issues, and inspire creativity — in particular appealing to those who are interested in studying the literary arts.

Organization Description: Context

Origin: Launched with a lecture by Pittsburgh native Annie Dillard in 1991 at The Fulton (now The Byham) Theater in downtown

Outreach: Has connected thousands of Pittsburghers with iconic authors such as Kurt Vonnegut, etc…

Current Programs: Present five signature series and partner with area schools and non-profit organizations to maximize the impact of visiting authors

Audience Analysis

Specific Audience

Words & Pictures is one of their primary programs, and it revolves around the novels of acclaimed children’s authors. The program/ lecture series is free, and this is because they hope to make their programs accessible to everyone, having a wide target audience. In particular, my flyer will be targeted towards parents and educators who will bring their children to this event. This is emphasized on the website because there’s a button for teachers to sign up their classes. Many of the lectures are also virtual which means it is easily accessible to everyone without necessitating transportation or having a limit on the number of attendees.

General Audience

The audience for events is program-specific.

  • Generally programs are intended for adults all around Pittsburgh. For instance, one other program is “Ten Evenings”: their main stage program where authors share their research and creative process in conversational lectures.
  • However, they also have a focus on children’s book authors and have educational programs through working with schools. “We provide educational experiences to thousands of students each year through our programs and work with hundreds of schools and non-profit organizations

Content Analysis

Looking at their website, it appears very organized with an emphasis on outreach with a section to gain sponsors. Their precise organization is demonstrated through their schedule for events — where the 5th lecture has already been scheduled months in advance for May 26th, 2022. This reveals that their lecture series speakers are their top priority and include renowned authors in their programs.

The Words & Pictures series features children’s authors with books targeted towards different ranges of children. I’ve done a little research on the 5 books/ authors that are mentioned including the genre (ex: young adult fiction) and the different age ranges for the corresponding books.

Analyzing Books/ Authors for the Series

Content breakdown

Initial analysis of the content page we received in class

Day 1: Hierarchy & Initial Experimenting

In-Class Notes discussing the 5 components of Visual hierarchy

Exercises to experiment with hierarchy through controlling variables

Experiment 1: Stroke Weights

Main Insights

  • Tried bolding the book title the author — Without line spacing, bolding the author is confusing and doesn’t establish a strong enough difference between each lecture since the sections run into each other, bolding the book title is easier to differentiate categories
  • Experimenting with Light 45, 55, 65, and Bold 75 stroke weights — Found the best combination with the right amount of contrast between the header and the body text is 45 with 65 or 55 and 75 (since everything is slightly bolder), 45 with 75 is a little too extreme, 45 with 55 does not create enough contrast
Experiment 2: Linespacing

Main Insights

  • Exercise 2.2: Adding too many spaces is confusing — don't know what belongs to what anymore
  • Exercise 2.3: Tried bolding for the entire text and spacing after the book title but hierarchy is now somewhat messed up because the same 1 space is after the title and description — too much emphasis on the spaces between each lecture. This could be resolved by adding more space spaces after the title header section.
  • Exercise 2.1 and 2.5: These exercises are the best at establishing differences between the important sections (lectures) to increase readability
Experiment 3: Horizontal Shift: 2 flush-left margins

Main Observations

  • 3.1 (normal tab) — Use indents to create hierarchy between book title and the rest of the information about that lecture, separating each of the lectures in the series
  • 3.2 (larger tab) — Tried an even larger tab indent but it makes the alignment slightly confusing because the start of the second left margin is after the end of the title
  • 3.3 — (smaller tab) Tried title header unindented but then it blends into the rest of the title information
  • 3.4 — Tried to indent all of the lecture series, but that entire indented section now has no hierarchy — no distinction between the sections
  • 3.5 — Indented only the extra information about the event excluding the book title and author. It looks slightly messy

3.1 and 3.3 work the best, where all the lecture information is indented except the header to create an understandable hierarchy between each lecture of the 5 events

Experiment 4: Horizontal Shift: 3 flush-left margins

Categorizing my content, I believe the event header and sponsor should be the 1st priority, the Event description + website is the 2nd priority, and the event header is the 3rd priority, with the body text/ event details as the 4th priority. 4.2 and 4.4 best depict these hierarchical priorities through the use of indentations. In 4.2, the style of indenting the description more than the body text to emphasize it works well; I'm wondering if it should be the other way around? In 4.4, indenting the whole lecture section and leaving out the website however appears a little strange, but also clearly indicates the difference between the lectures.

Experiment 5: Linespacing + 2 stroke weights (5.1 (top left), 5.2 (top middle), 5.3 (top right), 5.4 (bottom left), 5.5 (bottom middle), 5.6 (bottom right))
  • 5.5 and 5.6 create the best hierarchy through bolding the important information for each lecture and using line spaces to differentiate between the lecture sections.
  • In 5.5 I decided to add a space and unbold the Pittsburgh Arts & lectures line because I thought the event name is more important. I also added multiple line spaces after the event description to separate it from the lectures and increase importance to it over the lectures which have 1 space in between each.
  • 5.6 has similar changes but bolds the author rather than the top of the paragraph which is the book title — creating some different visual interest.
Experiment 6: Two-Stroke Weights + Horizontal Shift
  • Putting these elements together, I experimented with bolding headers and subheaders, and shifting important information more to the right to create columns (especially with the last 5 experiments)
Best Iterations Overall

Picked the 6 best ones: Easy to identify sections/ information is differentiated, important information is bolded, white space used to emphasize sections and create hierarchy between critical and additional information

Day 2: Experimenting with Color & Scale

Exploring Scale

Initial Paper Cutout Layouts

These are some initial physical explorations with scale I conducted. I was more rigid with my layout using only 2 main columns and tried to explore more changes with scale as I moved toward making these explorations digital. One thing Vicki mentioned was making sure the horizontal text is facing CW similar to the spine of a book.

Adjectives: Inspiring, Informative, Educational, Illuminating

Translating Scale Explorations to Digital with a grid

Adding a 12 column grid to try different layouts and sizes

I first tried creating 2 columns to separate info, experimenting with a large bold heading in different sizes for “words & pictures” because I decided that was the most important information on the page, alongside smaller body text to create some contrast. The alignment is consistent and somewhat rigid, aligning with the idea of the event being educational and informative. I also tried placing the body text in different spots around the page following the grid and found that the bottom left corner worked the best.

Scale Experiments 1

In these explorations, I experimented with vertical text (tried website, program name, organization name) with different bolding, different font sizes, and alignment. I also played around with what should be the header and the largest text on the page. The first two explorations emphasize “Words and pictures” with the website on the side, whereas the third exploration emphasizes the website on the side of the page, the 4th emphasizes “Words and pictures” and instead has the organization name bolded at the top, and the 5th tries something different by emphasizing the description of the event. I think the 4th exploration creates the correct hierarchy, except I wish the website was more highlighter.

Scale Experiments 2

Here I tried some more varied ideas. I like how the second one turned out with elements of consistency with an emphasis on “Words and Pictures” but also highlights “Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures.” The 5th exploration is similar to a staircase and creates more variety.

Scale Experiments 3

Color Experimentation

3 pages of different color palettes created from cutting pieces of magazine

1.1 color palette

1.1(First row): Limited myself to only 2 colors in the first row, Used blue to represent the educational, informative, reliable nature of the event, Used brighter colors as accents since the event is about children’s books

1.1(Middle and Bottom row): 3 colors: Used light pink and mint green to create pastel color schemes that I really like but don’t seem vibrant enough to represent this specific event. It would fit for lectures in general, but not for the children’s books component. However, I think the green, blue, pink one in the bottom left corner could be an option because of how playful it appears.

1.2 color palette

1.2 (top row): Brown and pink, pastel color schemes- remind me of a cafe and books, yet is too muted and delicate to represent children. Appears more somber and relaxing

1.2 (middle and bottom row): Tried brighter color schemes with the bright red incorporated with the greens (complementary colors) and the greenish blues. The left middle row looks more contemporary, giving off a more party feel rather than educational. The middle row far right palette using blue, yellow, and red seems like a good combination of informativeness and engaging for children.

1.3 color palette

1.3 (all rows): Started from scratch and tried completely different palettes that were a lot brighter including a bright green and orange. The middle row uses the same 3 bright colors in different quantities and positions. These palettes seem a lot more vibrant, playful, and child-like. I wonder if they’re too much and overwhelming since the lectures are still serious. The top right palette which uses 4 colors appears to have a good balance.

Most of my color schemes are more pastel which works for the reliable and calming, educational aspects of the organization, but I don’t think they’re as suitable to represent children’s books.

Color Schemes

Using Adobe Capture to pick select color schemes to explore more

Trying to find a balance between colors that are calming and informative but also engaging and exciting for children.

Experimenting with Color with Scale

I chose 3 of my digitized scale layouts/designs to experiment adding colors to.

Design 1 Variations

I tried a variety of cool and light color combinations and boxes with accent colors from the color schemes; Tried to make text the opposite color as the background; Experimented with color combinations with high and low contrast; Limited the compositions to 2–3 colors each

Design 2 Variations

Design 3 Variations

Graphics/ Lines/ Circles Exploration

Day 3: Hierarchy through images

Notes in class:

Feedback/ Takeaways from class:

  • Use fewer colors and focus on just a couple to easily convey the message — the boxes and other graphics are distracting
  • Consider scale from 10ft, 5ft, and 6 inches away (emphasize hierarchy/ title/ description more in my explorations) — can only see words & pictures from far away
  • Consider the proximity of description to subheader text and movement of text/ flow on the page

Image 1

Original image (left), Photoshopped versions (middle and right)
Iterations (Old -> New order)

Process/ Rationale

  • I started without masking my image and just making the background pure white. I took the orange color from the light at the bottom of the picture and the blue from the pants of the person. (1.1 and 1.2). I wanted to keep the colors more simplistic and muted in these iterations. I also enlarged the title “Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures” because in critiques people mentioned it wasn’t as obvious where to start on the page and move your eye.
  • I tried full-page photos and 3/4th and realized the orange light at the bottom was a little strange so I masked the entire photo on photoshop and removed the background. I also experimented with capital cases — which didn’t turn out too well, looked very odd compared to the rest of the text (1.3).
  • I changed the iteration back to lowercase and to make the text on the pants more visible, I used the same blue I used in the background (1.4). This allowed me to minimize colors and keep it more consistent.
  • I also experimented with how large I should make the description text, since it provides more context than just the title does (1.5).
  • In 1.6, I explored having text hang off the page, but I realized it makes it a little difficult to read.
  • I then tried to add more colors to make it a little more lively except 1.7 is too confusing and overwhelming. Maybe I need to find a more complementary color to the pastel gray blue.
  • In the second row, I tried to move the image on the page, leaving white margins. I also explored having text hang off the sides of the poster to make it more dynamic. I realized the background color was too light, which is when I tried a darker blue background and was able to make the white contrast more on the blue. In the last couple of iterations, I added a line to the side to bring the text elements closer together and added an accent color of orange, but this orange on the pastel blue doesn’t work too well.
Most Successful Iterations

Image 2

First row: In my first iteration, I explored putting the lectures in the series inside the actual book. I really like this concept, except the books are different thicknesses and colors so it is really difficult to read the text inside of them. Perhaps I will mask the books and make them white for the next iterations.

I then tried to put the lectures text on the right side of the book, staggering it. I thought this would flow to the concept except it looks a little weird since all of the text is staggered from different points on the left side. I also experimented with gradients in the background except I think they make the image look fake and distracting.

Second row: I moved the lecture text to the right so it can all be aligned. I also made my lecture text more colorful to add some color — especially since this is for children’s books. The middle row explores how I should format the header with different colors and styles, since it appears very lonely without any context to the books below it.

Third row: I reformatted the header in order to incorporate the 5 bright colors with a small book-like color palette component. I also added the dark blue box to provide some context to the header, but I think it might just be difficult to read from far away and awkward.

Summary of iterations/ best ones

Image 3

I tried this image but since the colors are also very somber and dull and the books are antique, I think it’s not suitable for children’s books, so didn’t continue exploring it. I tried cropping the photo so it goes off the page.

Image 4

In these iterations, I tried using more vibrant colors that are more reminiscent of children’s books, including an orange color to complement a baby blue. I also tried to incorporate graphical elements like circles/ triangles and lines that follow the shape of the image. The image is of a neighborhood shared library, which exudes the same tone of children’s books.

The dotted version doesn't have enough contrast between the circles and the background. The last version doesn’t seem to have a proper balance between the photo and the text. In the third version, I wonder if I should explore how to better integrate the text with the image instead of having it go over it. In the second iteration, I have it behind the image.

Color Changes after printing small versions

  • The blues are different shades
  • Boxes of colors are not the same as the color from the pictures
  • The bright orange turns out a lot darker, the blues are not bright enough

Best Iterations

Day 3: New Iterations & Critiques

Exploring corkboards with posters around the school

Some observations

  • Orange/ bright colors stand out immediately
  • Pictures that go to the end of the page are more noticeable- white blends in with all of the other posters (the majority of them are white)
  • Large text is easily readable from farther distances
  • The more text, the more cluttered and overwhelming it looks

Feedback from group critique & Vicki

  • The toes are very noticeable
  • Vicki mentioned that my images are not really related to the adjectives and the vibe of arts & lectures — need to be more inspirational and engaging to children especially
  • I think the colors are a bit monotonous and not as inspiring as they can be.
  • The orange lines near the body of text is maybe not necessary since the text is already segmented into sections.
  • Thought the stacked books version was good because it has some movement to it
  • Thought the idea of the book library was good — books can be everywhere
  • Maybe incorporate a person into it — live beings encourage attention

New Photos

Finding new photos that better align with the concept of imagination and illumination, and encouraging children to explore the possibilities of books

Image 5

Photoshop iterations

Editing the photo: Original Image (Left), Removed a book to make more space for text (Middle), Moved the book over to the left to decrease tension (Right)

Process & Decisions

Image 6 — an unsuccessful attempt

I tried to photoshop the original image in order to better incorporate text. In the second image, I tried to create a border and mask out books, in order to leave a trail of books coming out of the image in some way. In the third image, I tried to lighten up the bedsheet so that I would be able to put text on top of it with enough contrast so it is readable. I experimented with making the image smaller and in the corner of the page. The text is very difficult to incorporate into this image because of all of the objects, so I decided not to pursue it. Andrew also mentioned that it might be more effort than it’s worth. I was considering masking out the bedsheet (image 4) but that was very unsuccessful since the girl just looks like she’s floating in the air without any context

Image 7

Following the adjective of illuminating, and how these books and lectures are intended to be inspirational for children, I found an image that encompasses this idea.

Photoshopped the image (increased contrast, changed the brightness to make it less gray) and integrated text into the image. The front lantern is supposed to go over the letter e. I’m not sure if this poster is entirely relevant to the content theme.

Day 3 Continued: Refining Poster (Image 5)

Feedback from Yoshi

  • 2 lines is more effective than 1
  • Decide where the description text should go depending on what my story is
  • the Words in lighter blue attracts more attention so makes sense in that order- words is blue and pictures is red
  • The other images seem too literation (the lanterns)
  • Print it out to see how the colors turn out

Best Versions

Printing them out

From across the room (left), from 10 inches away (right)
  • The white text has more contrast against the brown background, the red has lower contrast
  • Two columns at the bottom allow for the header to be larger and noticeable from farther away
  • The book should be photoshopped closer so that the left margin all lines up, or having it go off the page more
  • If I change the light blue text to white then I need to brighten the red so that there isn’t a sudden jump in contrast especially with the Pittsburgh arts and lectures and the website at the bottom right

More Varied Iterations

Iterations created as a response to Vicki’s written feedback

Based on feedback from Vicki, I experimented with making the Words & Pictures text larger including variations where the left edge or top area is cut off. Cutting off certain regions seems to distract in this context of educational lectures. I also tried making the text one color (revisited the teal blue) to appear more cohesive and adding smaller pops of color such as the “&” sign, as well as experimenting with different placements of text which were more exploratory than my initial design. The teal creates more contrast against the brown than the red does, which is beneficial to read the text from farther away. I believe splitting up the text makes it appear distracting and not cohesive. I tried various placement of the description text in addition to making it larger than the header in the top right, but I feel like it makes the poster more confusing where there isn’t a necessarily obvious starting point for the viewer.

More New Iterations

Vicki recommended switching up the layout to make the poster appear more dynamic, where readers can read the description first as soon as they see the poster. This layout goes from left to right as the reader moves down the page. I explored a light brown color from the wood, multiply layers, harsh light and soft light layers, and translucent effects for the larger“Words & Pictures” text, now at the bottom of the page. This layout also adds some breathing room and negative space at the top of my poster. I also experimented with changing the colors of certain words in the description I wanted to emphasize.

Further Iterations on bottom up design

Top Row: The Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures text and the website appeared a little too distinct from the “words & pictures” header, so I moved it to the bottom under Words & Pictures as well as made it the same color as the top description for consistency. I experimented with transparency and photoshopped the books more so that there was more space in between each.

Bottom Row: Instead of using the same blue for the highlights in the subheadings, I used the red from the books but in a brighter and lighter tint. However, I think this color has less contrast against the background. I also tried a version where the words & pictures text doesn’t cut off the screen and lines up with the left margin. However, these red versions have merit because they don’t blend in with the blue of the “words and pictures.”

Printing it out

6ft away
  • The parts of the description I changed into red/ blue were actually receding instead of coming forward so I inverted the order of the colors and made all of the text red/ blue, with only the important 3 words in white which definitely stands out better.
  • Blue accents are easier to see than red on the warm brown background. The less saturated blue color matches the colors of the books better from farther away. The opaque text is still easier to read than the transparent ones.
  • Also for the blue highlights, I changed the color from the teal to be a softer tint of the blue, because the teal didn’t show well when printed.

Final Version

Final Poster for 11/9 Crit
Rough grid according to the images

More Critique (11.09.2021)

Not enough contrast with Words & Pictures, the poster looks dull and darker when printed

Variations of “Words and Pictures”

I tried changing the “Words & Pictures” text, experimenting with a gradient from white to pink as well as white to blue. I thought the pink gradient added too many new colors to the mix of the composition. The solid white was a little too much contrast and too similar to the “Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures” text. The blue gradient was a subtle mix of both. I tried versions where there was more and less white visible.

Next, I merged all of the shifted book layers, and increased brightness decreased contrast, and created a mask to even out the vignette. This made the poster appear a lot brighter when I printed it out. I ended up making it too bright to where the text wasn’t as readable anymore, so had to tone it down.

Experimenting with gradients, New poster beside the Old Poster

Final Iteration

Drawing from my observations in this last round of iterations, I settled on a final version that incorporates color and gradients to establish better contrast between the words and images, a rough grid dependent on the human figure and text proximity to books, and a hierarchy corroborated by the differing sizes of the text on the page and color choices, and alignment according to the precise placement of text beside the photoshopped books.


Reflecting on this project, I learned a lot about how to use the principles of design to draw in people’s attention, such as how appropriate color combinations evoke specific emotions and how the placement of text can create movement across a poster. I understood the importance of incorporating meaningful imagery into the poster with the text, working with the relationship of text in relation to the poster including alignment and proximity, but also considering the reader’s response to the imagery. For instance, with my original image, everyone immediately thought the foot was too graphic and distracting. I think selecting a different image allowed my poster to better fit the adjectives and story I was hoping to tell with Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures. It also greatly affected my color choice in my poster to adhere to the image. I also think scale was very effective and critical in deciding on a story for our posters, understanding where I want the viewer to start on the page and keep reading — deciding which pieces of text to bold or make larger, whether it be the description, name of the event, or the location. I haven’t done a lot of graphic design in the past, and understanding and applying grids with these visual components to my poster for the first time was an extremely useful learning experience. Looking back at other designs I have made, I understand how they’re not very legible and difficult to read now without a grid or appropriate gutters. I definitely understand how these components would be relevant to any track I end up choosing to pursue with design where I have to display information effectively.