4. Hierarchy, Layers & Transparancy


Hierarchy is primarily known as social or human resources component. It is concerned with the order of importance in cultures or organizations. Consider British Occupied India the early 20th Century. On the British side there were Lords, Admirals, Dukes, and commoners. On the other, the complex caste system of the natives. The intersection of all of these social levels created opportunities for the advantaged and kept the disadvantaged in their unfortunate situations. For those that desired to work or love a level below or a level above, there was conflict, angst and/or death.

Even in situations among equals, Hierarchy can be gained or lost. Two young men may graduate from the same high school and be of the same age and race and class. One becomes a flashy dressing CEO, the other end up as a disillusioned homeless veteran in rags. But after another 10 years, maybe the CEO ends up in an Orange prison jumpsuit and the veteran has a neatly trimmed beard and is running marathons.

I bring in this social context for a purpose: graphic design is more than just arranging content on a page. Design communicates class and values and emotions, too. But, for now we will focus mainly on the simple graphic aspect of graphic hierarchy.

As a graphic designer, you have to promote and demote different components so that one gets more attention than the others. There are a lot of techniques that a designer can choose from to establish hierarchy: color, shape, size, etc.

To illustrate this, we can go back to our bookstore bookshelf again. The two books on our introductory slide show that I want you to find are Look at You Now and the one just above it, Pigeon Tunnel. Both have visual content and typography. In one the typography is prominent, in the other the image is dominant.

Hands on for class: We will work in Photoshop, and Illustrator.


We will focus on the layers pallet. You will learn how to

  1. create layers
  2. Show layers
  3. hide layers
  4. rearrange layers
  5. group layers
  6. move objects from one layer to another layer
  7. dim the opacity of layers
  8. delete layers

Layers in Photoshop and layers in Illustrator share some similarities, but they significantly different.

If you are working with multiple vector based objects such as lines, boxes, and blocks of text, Illustrator is easier.

If you are working on a complex photo illustration, then Photoshop will work better for you.


We will work in both photoshop and illustrator in making images that make use of transparency effects.

In both Illustrator and Photoshop we will work with

Graphic Design Basics