Master Motion Designer and SOM Alum Jacob Richardson Breaks Down the Dos and Don'ts of Designing with Value and Contrast
Many motion designers are quite keen on complexity. Rightfully so, since tricky designs can be great attention grabbers. They can't, however, mask or compensate for weak fundamentals.
When it comes to the basics, there's probably nothing more important than understanding contrasting values.
If you've yet to master using lightness and darkness to design effective compositions, this brief tutorial is for you.
Using Value in Designs: A Quick Tip Tutorial
Using Value in Design: The Project File Download
What is Value-Based Design?
Simply, value-based design refers to creating forms and signifying space or distance, or creating forms or the illusion of volume or mass within a shape or space, by adjusting relative lightness or darkness; or, how much tint (addition of white) or shade (addition of black) there is in a color.
The difference in contrasting values helps the eye separate elements of an image and understand the design being presented.
Images with high values express lightness, airiness, or openness; images with lower values express darkness, weight, or gloom.
In the illustrations below, Jacob demonstrates what happens when you adjust values (right), and when you don't (left). The fishbowl on the left is designed with different colors; however, since the values of all the colors are so similar, the illustration is difficult to decipher. On the right, that same fishbowl displays distinctly, with adjustments to the color values.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CONTRASTING VALUES
If the above illustration hasn't sold you, think about this.
What happens when you hit the street for a run at night, dressed in dark colors, without your reflective gear? You risk getting run over by a moving vehicle. Why? You blend in with your surroundings — no contrast! Now, imagine that same run at that same hour, outfitted with bright white sneakers, a neon jacket, arm bands, and a headlamp. You've significantly improved your chances of returning home in one piece. How? With your safety attire, you've leveraged contrasting values to increase your visibility, against your surroundings — exactly what artfully contrasted values achieve in dynamic design.
Below is a real-world design example. With its Samsung Galaxy Note 10 ad, Verizon achieves the desired effect with its stark, heavy, bold black text and phone shadow against the bright white background.
Other Key Motion Design Terms
Value and contrast are two of the many terms you'll need to know to excel as a motion designer.
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