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Immersion is the emotion your audience feels, when they are invested in what you are trying to communicate with them. It relates to the psychological idea of flow – a state in which you are focused and free from inner chatter. This state allows them to open themselves up to experiencing the current moment. But what does this all have to do with brand identity or visual design?

Design, like almost any other communication needs the participation of the audience. And we need to help them with that on every step. Remove distractions and guide them in the intended direction. Whether we create a website or a brochure, we should strive to immerse the viewer. But how do we actually achieve this immersion?

The art of immersion

Let’s exchange notes with one of the most immersive mediums there are – music. Music is the epitome of getting into flow. It is mostly an abstract medium (apart from lyrics), which communicates subliminally. It is the basis of rituals throughout history – uniting people in tribes, under common experiences.

And the reason music affects us so deeply, is that it plays with basic psychological mechanisms. One of these mechanisms is our ability to detect patterns. Or our ability do discern the order and the chaos – known and the unknown.

Known vs. Unknown

Known is where we feel most secure. While the unknown is where growth and reinvention lies in. That’s what makes good music immersive. The feeling of familiarity, balanced with getting surprised.

It is possible to achieve this in type through two simple principles – structure and emphasis. Structure creates for us a sense of security. In type it can we can achieve it in many levels. On the macro level, through layout grids. On a lower level, predictable consistent leading (line height) also creates structure. On an even lower level, we achieve structure through good spacing between individual letters (also called kerning) . If structure turns too rigid, it transforms into monotony. It makes our message look uninportant and bland — turning people away as a result. So how do we prevent that?

We apply the opposite force – emphasis. We make certain elements stand out. We consciously and carefully break structure. Make blocks of type draw attention by changing the color, typeface, weight or variant. We consciously break the rules we’ve created ourselves. Which leads us to surprising our viewer. And everything that is surprising, is considered noteworthy.

The power of emphasis

So the place of emphasis, is the place we would get the fullest conscious attention of our audience. We as brand strategists, and brand identity designers, need to make each spots of emphasis count. Since emphasis is so powerful – sometimes we get too trigger happy with it. We want the people to see this, read that, and go through this. And too many points of emphasis can quickly drain the attention span of our viewer. Making them direct their attention on something easier to decipher.

So our goal as designers is to use the tools at our disposal, to make our messages balanced. Structured enough to feel familiar, but interesting enough to stand out.

Since this is a brief overview of Structure vs. Emphasis, we will discuss specific ways to strike this balance in future posts.