One of the fundamental tenets of graphic design is the idea of creating a visual hierarchy in your layout. You want the viewer’s eye to settle on an area of the page (using scale, color, white space etc.) and then be naturally drawn in a logical manner to supporting elements that make up the design. Otherwise, the viewer’s attention can bounce around the drawing and feel lost.
A sense of hierarchy can be especially important in information graphics, where not only the visual appeal of a graphic but the intended message can be compromised if it doesn’t exist. I was reviewing a particularly dense infographic I completed a few years ago that tested this premise. The drawing was for a proposal on behalf of the PROTECT initiative at Northeastern University, which studies exposure to environmental contamination in Puerto Rico and it’s contribution to preterm birth. The authors needed a lot of information to be conveyed in a very limited space. Looking at it, I was reminded of something the designer Alberto Cairo has said in his talks. He stresses the need for layers in a design. Specifically a presentation layer and an exploration layer. Complexity is important and useful, but you need to show the viewer how to navigate that complexity. This is relative to the idea of a hierarchy; you want to make the viewer comfortable in how they access a complex graphic by providing a “landing area” and then giving them the option to drill into more complex data.