Beyond Clip Art, Part 3: Design Rule of Thumb: Contrast

In this final segment of our 3-part series, using a 2-dimensional graphic from an intellectual property case as an example, Guy Grogan, Senior Trial Consulting Advisor at IMS, describes the third Design Rule of Thumb: CONTRAST.

“Contrast is the meaning of life.”

John Clapp, Professor of Illustration at San Jose State University

Design Rule of Thumb #3: Contrast (aka “Polarities”)

Contrast, as it pertains to images, is achieved by ensuring polarities, that is, oppositional forces, exist. Opposing usage of color, size, and other design elements ensure the content of a graphic “pops.” Whether we realize it or not, we regularly see images that utilize polarities in the world around us (e.g., road signage, television sportscasts, billboards, etc.). In fact, by juxtaposing the absurd with the serious, the cartoon at the beginning of the article utilizes the principle of contrast to capture a reader’s attention.

The two types of polarities at work in this jelly bean graphic involve contrasts between colors and contrasts between sizes. With respect to color, notice how the plain dark green background works as a stage that allows the other lighter-colored visual elements to move into the foreground. Then, because the value (the relative lightness or darkness of a color) of the hands and brown bag are fairly subdued, the colorful jelly beans, which are the key contextual elements, become the visual center of the graphic.

Even with good contrast, the readability of the graphic text must always be considered when we create our works. Readability of text is a continuous concern for us because it is often hampered by courtroom environmental factors that are beyond our control. For instance, we have to consider how overhead lighting, windows, the quality of the available technology, the distance between the screen and the jury, etc., will affect readability. We have found that optimizing readability is as much about adjusting text size as is it about maximizing contrast. For example, in our speech bubble, we chose a relatively large size font, and then to further enhance the text’s readability, we created contrast by setting dark text on a light background.

Although these days, I am rarely subjected to power ballads, I sometimes have to endure viewing opposing attorneys’ clip-art-style graphics in the courtroom. These days, their poor graphics don’t make me cringe, though. They make me feel all the more confident about our clients’ cases. Because we at IMS take the time to adhere to tried-and-true design principles (link to trial graphics page), our clients always have the winning edge.

Learn more about more graphic design rules of thumb Part 1, examining SIMPLICITY, and STYLE in Part 2.