Visual Hierarchy: Irish Music Livestream

Catherine Wang
11 min readSep 13, 2020


5 basic principles of visual hierarchy:

  • Contrast — thick to thin, sans serif vs. serif, value
  • Proximity — distinguish groups of content, group together similar content
  • Alignment — to guide the reader’s eyes
  • Scale — large = important, small = not as important
  • Color — bold, color contrasts



Getting to Know about the Event

My notebook spread of information from the Pittsburgh Irish Festival (PIF) website:

Previous year’s posters + graphics used for PIF’s website:

Initial Exercises

Ones that I though were interesting/good first attempts:

Exercises 1–3
Exercise 4 | Focus: fewer levels of hierarchy (left) and days of the week (right)

Decisions I found difficult:

  • highlighting the location of the performances which is their Facebook page. It is at the very bottom so it can be overlooked if it is grouped with the dates/names of the performers.
  • For stroke weight, I wasn’t sure if I should be prioritizing the dates or the names of the performers. Both pieces of information seem important, but I think bolding the names of the acts would highlight the content rather than the logistics of the event.
  • I wasn’t sure if the name of the event should be on the same level of hierarchy as the “presented by” section. Sometimes I didn’t differentiate the two because of the restrictions I had.

Focus phrase:

  1. preserve and promote Irish culture + support Irish musicians
  2. OR resilience of Irish spirit again the pandemic (and two years ago against a flood of the festival venue)

Three adjectives (describing previous music streams and from the perspective of a non Irish music listener):

bonding/connecting, something new/fresh, humble



Explorations with magazine clippings:

Combination of Typography, particular greens, and composition

images that showed a lot of different color contrasts: complementary colors (5,76,7), analogous colors (4), split complementary (2), accent color (1,3)

Value contrast (definitely keeping these in my magazine clips folder)

Scale contrast (from magazine and also from the posters hung up on floor 1)

Exercise 5: Color

I visited the Irish Design Center and had a chat with Lauren the lady who was taking care of the store. We talked a bit about color choices, such as trying out some rich emerald greens and also using blue which was a color originally associated with St. Patrick. Yellows also seemed nice to add festivity and excitement. However, I didn’t have time to put this newly acquired information to my color designs, so for now I mainly used shades of green and orange. Green, because why not pick the low hanging fruit in my initial attempts at color. Orange, sure because of the flag, but also because when I watched some past livestreams of Irish musician groups, I felt a lot of warmth, excitement, hospitality, and passion towards their music-making. Next time I may use a more saturated color palette to emphasize those feelings.

Exercise 6: Scale (more generic but communicates more clearly)

Exercise 6: Scale again (focus is on continuation +repetition, similar to celtic knots and their belief that life never ends, it just rebirths and continues)



New Inspiration!

Because I worked at the Miller ICA last year, I got an email from the coordinator about the current exhibit which coincidentally is an exhibition about posters! Specifically, it’s posters designed by female AIGA members about the 2020 vote. This is a link to their online archive:

Some 2020 posters that stood out to me that pertains to visual hierarchy:

  1. “Voting Issues” by Fearn di Vicq — This piece was a lot better seen in person, but the variations of blue popping against the black background really speaked to me. Size stayed the same while color took the role of creating hierarchy.
  2. “Fix the Math” by Sara Gephart — I first thought this poster was boring, but the more I look at it, I really like its simplicity. I especially like the only use of color on the small text.
  3. “Votes for Women: 100 Years” by Kendra Lebo — I like the toned down complementary colors and the image overlay over the main text.

Some more interesting posters from 2016 and 2012:

I also realize these posters have a similar issue with Irish music stream in that they have the obvious red, white, and blue hurdle.



Three Different Solutions

After doing research, I was pretty overwhelmed with the amount of information I had. After having a zoom call with Vicki, I decided to just try different ideas for the image of the poster and see which one I gravitated more towards.

Musician Poster

The people from the design center seem to like the idea of the “backlit musician with a lively audience”. I personally wanted to try something that wasn’t overtly related to music, but I wanted to try out photography before I move on to vectors and illustrations. These photos were of performers from the roster: The Screaming Orphans and Scythian.

musician iterations

I tried different positioning of the image and text, but I wasn’t interested enough in the imagery to take it further.

Celtic Knot Poster

I then moved on to the idea of Celtic knots. I focused on the shield knot because of its pull-apart shapes and the message of protection against difficult times.

I then tried out different colors and opacities on a 1/4 of the knot. Then I rearranged the quarters to seem like the pieces of the knot were slowly falling into place. I also tried having the text wrap along the knot, but that was too constraining in terms of text placement and readability.

Completed Celtic knot poster I showed during Tuesday’s peer critique.

Irish Hare Poster

My final and most thematically risky idea was one based off of animal symbolism. I saw in the design center reoccurring images of stags, serpents, and Irish hares. I thought hares were light on their feet which reflected the liveliness and movement of the music performances, having multiple animals will add the idea of living beings and a sense of bonding/community, and this idea can also add to Irish culture’s connection with nature. I used this chance to also illustrate for the poster because I thought it was more difficult to find a photograph of hares that I would like.

I started looking into rabbit movement and anatomy first because I never drew rabbits before. I then brainstormed compositions and decided with three hares for Irish culture’s affinity towards the number 3 (such as the Holy Trinity and the trinity knot). I also grabbed patterns that I thought were interesting such as flowers from Irish ceramics and the decorative swirls on Irish manuscripts.

I then played around with the scale of the rabbits as well as the placement of the text. Vicki suggested to grab the audience’s attention using the band’s names such as “Rust Town Rounders” and “Screaming Orphans”, so I made the names bigger and arranged them in a staircase arrangement. The acts arranged in that manner is not in order, so I had to change that afterwards.

Completed poster I showed during Tuesday’s peer critique.

Peer Feedback on my two posters:

  • overall consensus that the hare poster is more appealing than the Celtic knot poster
  • mixed opinions of the white hare — Joseph really liked how it followed the path of the typography while others thought it’s light value was too distracting
  • better organization of of the typography such as moving the times/dates and having a more even vertical gap between the performer names

Feedback from Andrew during C Lab:

  • simultaneous contrast between the orange typography and the green background
  • he understood why my peers and I would prefer the hare poster
  • suggested that I can try bring the more organic swirls to the Celtic knot poster, but I ended up spending most of my time refining my hare poster

At this point I was pretty happy with my hare idea and I had a list of tweaking I can do: trying out other colors, moving around the type, adding or eliminating the details of the swirls/flowers etc.



I started first by playing more with the colors and the placement of the type. Although it looks like a lot of different iterations, I had a lot of fun trying out different color combinations and placement. This habit of just trying out every color combo I can think of is something I picked up from Color with Mark Mentzer.

With typography, I moved the dates/times around and also arranged the performer names into the correct order and in a more dynamic path.

What the hare poster looked like before I showed Jaclyn

Feedback from Jaclyn during office hours:

  • The type on the top vs. the bottom seem to be fighting. Maybe making the “The Live Stream Irish Music Series” part pure white will increase its hierarchy.
  • Jaclyn thought the use of light and dark colors of the type, especially at the top, was pretty successfully done, where both light and dark type are readable from the green background.

Feedback from Vicki while she dropped off the nice printer paper:

  • “Killing the darling”/the hare idea because it didn’t relate to Irish culture
  • the illustration overpowers the typography for a project about visual/typographic hierarchy
  • lsdjflksdjflk

Vicki’s feedback was honestly a shocking experience, because for the past two weeks nobody deterred me from following the hare idea. I understand that people have questioned why I use the animals, but they did appreciate the illustrative path I was trying to go down and explore. I also didn’t really consider my idea to be a ‘darling’ because I had reasons for choosing what I chose and I did explorations before of other options.

Because it was the day before final crit, I did what I could to quickly tone down the illustration by eliminating the flowers/making it smaller and adjusting to a more muted color palette.

Printing took many tries because the color of the print out was a lot more saturated than the image on the screen.

Feedback from final critique on Thursday:

  • my use of image was weak because the colors didn’t allow the readability of the hare shapes
  • Bret thought I was doing something different with the flat illustrations and the swirls, but different doesn’t mean the best/most accurate portrayal of the music event

After Thursday’s crit, I wasn’t very happy with the current version of the poster which I quickly made to adjust to Vicki’s criticism. I sent this current version and some previous hare iterations to Mark to see if I can create more color harmony from a previous poster design.

Feedback from Mark Mentzer about iterations’ color usage:

  • suggests a darker green background to reflect August rather than spring
  • try using yellow to bridge a gap between different hues
  • head of the second largest hare is a strange shape and a bit unrecognizable (something that I agreed with but I was prioritizing color adjustments)
  • watch out for the dark brown type that is too similar in value with the green background

Final Posters after considering Mark’s suggestions:

I reduced the colors to just green whites, oranges, and yellows. I also replaced the flower pattern with just a little bit of textured brush just so the rabbits don’t appear too flat. I tried having the background just as a warm grey so that the other colors stand out more, but the green background ultimately made the colors more cohesive. Finally, I made the performer’s names the same color to more clearly section out performer titles, illustration, and event description.

Final Poster