What is visual design?

Visual design is best known as a website or application’s aesthetic appeal.  Like magicians, who know when and how to leverage our gaps in perception, designers strategically use things like color, fonts, and layouts to incite action, elicit emotional responses, tell brand stories, and more.

How do designers work their magic?

When an audience leaves a magic show, the magician hopes they wonder, “how did he/she do that?”  The same case can be made for when an audience leaves your website.

  • What actions should they have taken?
  • What emotions should they have experienced?
  • What stories should they have heard?

Designers will take the time to understand the purpose of your website or applicationand that purpose will determine how visual cues are applied.

Understanding the objective

All design should support business goals, so it is essential for your designer to have a foundational understanding of your what those are.  We suggest creating a “design hypothesis” with your designer to build a well-constructed foundation.  At Clarity, the Design Hypothesis is our starting point for every project.

We ask:
• What are we building?
• For whom are we building it?
• What will be the result?
• How do we measure the result?

Applying visual cues

Users decide in just 50 milliseconds if a website is attractive.  Designers want to leave a good first impression, so we start with research.

  • What design patterns are your users expecting?
  • What will they find attractive or useful?

Designers also have a few tricks up their sleeves.  Color, line, scale, shape, alignment, contrast, and space are the elements of design.  You will see them utilized to create balance, emphasis, movement, pattern, repetition, proportion, rhythm, variety, and unity.  When design adheres to these foundational principles, subjective preferences become easy to identify.  So designers will help you understand which elements on the page incite action, elicit emotion, or tell a story, and why.

What are some of the artifacts created during visual design?

Mood Boards

A Mood Board is a collection of images that captures a specific look and feel.  It may include images of:

  • Print design
  • Interactive design
  • Floral design
  • Interior design
  • Fashion design
  • Textures

The possibilities are infinite, so we intentionally save the application of patterns to specific content types for later.

Our main goals during this stage are to:

  • Identify design patterns that help achieve business goals
  • Establish a consistent design vocabulary
  • Align on a creative direction

Visual Mockups

Visual Mockups are grown-up wireframes. Sometimes referred to as “high-fidelity designs,” Visual Mockups apply the Mood Board creative direction to the Wireframes and bring the vision to life. This phase is the amalgamation of all previous design phases, which makes it one of the most exciting.


Your newly approved Visual Mockups deserve to be documented. A Styleguide will offer implementation guidance to developers, governance guidance to brand managers, and pattern guidance to designers.

A specific use of a Styleguide may occur if you hire a marketing agency to help you create strategic marketing campaigns.  Your marketing agency may want to know how/if they can apply their strategy and tactics to your existing website.

How can Clarity help you with visual design?

From brand development to accessible design, we are a well equipped creative team ready to tackle design related challenges. Your insights are paired with research and collaborative design. Our collective ideas and solutions will help your users take action, feel, or learn.

Design speaks louder than words – and we can tell your story.

Suzie Miller is a Creative Director at Clarity Partners.  Here, she discusses the tools and tricks used by designers to elicit emotional responses to site design as part of an overall strategy in helping clients make decisions about their website.