We always try our best to challenge your artistic abilities and produce some interesting, beautiful and creative artwork, and as designers we usually turn to different sources of inspiration. As a matter of fact, we’ve discovered the best one—desktop wallpapers that are a little more distinctive than the usual crowd. This creativity mission has been going on for almost seven years now1, and we are very thankful to all designers who have contributed and are still diligently contributing each month.
This post features free desktop wallpapers created by artists across the globe for March 2015. Both versions with a calendar and without a calendar can be downloaded for free. It’s time to freshen up your wallpaper!
Please note that:
All images can be clicked on and lead to the preview of the wallpaper,
You can feature your work in our magazine2 by taking part in our Desktop Wallpaper Calendars series. We are regularly looking for creative designers and artists to be featured on Smashing Magazine. Are you one of them?
“I am the kind of person that prefers cold but I do love spring since it’s the magical time when flowers and trees come back to life and fill the landscape with beautiful colors.” — Designed by Maria Keller123 from Mexico.
“Last year I made also a wallpaper with these little chickens. The whole year up to now they lay on my desk and looked at me: ‘we are still cheerfull, use us again for your wallpaper’ ‘Allright, you have me’
Happy March!” — Designed by Agnes Swart216 from the Netherlands.
“March, even just by name, is a month for action and hustle. This quote is one of my all-time favorites, and I think it’s a pretty great reminder to stay on your game.” — Designed by Resa Barillas549 from the United States.
Please note that we respect and carefully consider the ideas and motivation behind each and every artist’s work. This is why we give all artists the full freedom to explore their creativity and express emotions and experience throughout their works. This is also why the themes of the wallpapers weren’t anyhow influenced by us, but rather designed from scratch by the artists themselves.
Has a client ever asked you to make the logo bigger1? Maybe they asked that just after you completed their request to make a heading bigger. The new heading stands out, but now the logo is too small in comparison and isn’t getting noticed. The clients wants to make the logo bigger.
Of course, now that the logo and heading are bigger, both are going to attract more attention than the main call-to-action button, which will need to be made bigger. And once the button is bigger, the heading is going to start looking small again.
You can’t emphasize everything. It defeats the point. When you try to do that, all of your design elements compete for attention and nothing stands out. They’re all yelling at the same time. Everything is louder, but still nothing is heard.
Emphasis is relative. For one element to stand out, another has to serve as the background from which the first is to stand out. Some elements need to dominate2 others in order for your design to display any sort of visual hierarchy.
Note: This is the fifth post in a series on design principles. You can find the first four posts in the series here:
Compare any two elements in a design. Either the elements will be equal in every way or one will exert some level of dominance over the other. The more dominant element will attract the eye and get noticed first. It might even appear to exhibit some sort of control over the less dominant element.
The more dominant element likely has greater visual weight than the elements it dominates. It will seem to exert force on what’s around it.
As you develop a composition, you’ll see numerous elements exerting dominance over each other. Some elements will dominate, and some will be subordinate. Without conscious control, you’d just hope that things all work out and that the important information will attract attention. Fortunately, you do have control.
How to Establish Dominance
You design one element to have more dominance than another by giving it more visual weight. The greater its visual weight, the more an element will attract the eye and exhibit dominance.
You create dominance through contrast, emphasis and relative visual weight. Identical items can’t dominate each other. To exert dominance, an element has to look different from the elements it’s meant to dominate.
Your goal is to create elements with noticeable differences in visual weight.
You can vary the same characteristics that we talked about in the last couple of articles in this series. As a reminder, here are the most common characteristics you can vary to set different visual weights:
local white space,
perceived physical weight,
You can create dominance through visual direction as well. For example, you might surround an element with arrows all pointing to that element. If there are enough directional cues, the element could become dominant even if it’s of lesser visual weight than other elements on the page.
You can also have co-dominance, where two dominant elements exist within a composition. However, both will compete for attention and could ultimately be distracting without the right overall balance in your competition.
Ideally, you want a single dominant element.
The Dominant Element
The dominant element in a design is the one with the greatest visual weight (or the one that everything else points to). It’s the element that attracts the eye first, more than anything else on the page.
Be careful not to make the element so dominant that it completely obscures everything else, but do make it stand out in the design.
Your dominant element is the starting point for the story you’re telling. It’s the entry point into your design. It should attract visitors to the first place you want them to look.
This is how you start a conversation with visitors. The dominant element is noticed first and sets the context for what’s seen next. It’s at the top of the hierarchy. It should emphasize your most important information, because it might be the only thing anyone will see. Whatever message you want people to take away should be clearly communicated in or near your dominant element.
Without an entry point, viewers will have to work harder to find their way into your design. They’ll have to pause and think where to look first and think about what’s truly important on the page. A lack of entry point will increase the cognitive load on visitors. Don’t make them think. Provide an entry point into your design.
Focal points are also elements or areas of dominance, just not to the same degree as your one dominant element, which could be defined as your most dominant focal point. Focal points are areas of interest, emphasis or difference within a composition that capture and hold the viewer’s attention.
The focal points in your design should stand out but should be noticed after the element with the most dominance. The graphic below shows a lone circle amid a sea of mostly gray squares. The circle is not only a different shape, but is larger and bright red. It’s likely the first thing your eye notices in the graphic.
Three of the four squares are also reddish in color, though not as bright as the circle. They’re the same size as the other squares in the image, but they do stand out from the gray squares due to their color.
The circle and the three reddish squares are all focal points because they stand out from the majority of other elements in the graphic. They contrast with the mass of gray squares. The large bright red circle stands out the most. It’s the dominant focal point, or the dominant element in this image.
As with the dominant element, you can create focal points by giving them more visual weight than everything except the dominant element — which, again, is your most dominant focal point. You can also create visual direction that leads to different focal points.
Contrast is a good way to create focal points, because contrast calls attention to itself for being different. Anything that can be contrasted and anything that can affect visual weight or direction can be used to create a focal point, in the same way that it can be used to create a dominant element. The difference is simply of degree.
Levels Of Dominance
If you create focal points and make one of those points the dominant element, then you’re starting to create different levels of dominance. The dominant element will sit on one level and will be noticed before all others. The remaining focal points will sit on another level. How many levels of dominance can you realistically have in a design?
Three is a good number. As a general rule, people can perceive three levels of dominance. They notice what’s most dominant, what’s least dominant and then everything else. There needs to be enough difference between these levels for people to distinguish one from the next. You want to create distinct levels, not a continuum.
You could create more than three levels of dominance, but each additional level will reduce the contrast between neighboring levels. Unless you’re sure you can contrast each level well enough, stick with three.
This is the level with the most visual weight and the one that gets the most emphasis. Your dominant level will usually consist of a single element in the foreground.
This is the level of focal points, with the exception of the dominant element or dominant focal point. It gets secondary emphasis. Elements on this level get less emphasis than the dominant level but more than the subordinate level.
This is this level with the least visual weight. It should recede into background to some degree. This level will usually contain your body of text.
It’s possible for different people to look at a composition and think that different elements are focal points or even the dominant element. Remember to go big enough with your differences in visual weight to make clear which level is more dominant. You want your dominant element and focal points to be as obvious as possible.
As you design distinct levels of dominance, you create visual hierarchy in the design11. Ideally, this visual hierarchy will match the conceptual hierarchy of your content. If an article’s heading is more important than a caption in the article, then the heading should be more visually dominant.
Base your visual hierarchy on the actual priorities of the information being presented. First, prioritize everything that will go on the page, and once it’s set, design a visual hierarchy to follow that prioritization.
Visual hierarchy enables visitors to scan information. It helps you communicate a message quickly and effectively. The top of the hierarchy (the dominant element) should help to answer questions a visitor might immediately have upon landing on the page.
Within seconds, visitors should be able to pick up the key points and main message of the page. They can do this if you make the most important information the most visually prominent.
People who stick around longer than a few seconds should be able to scan through the focal points in your design to gain the next most important message(s) that you want to communicate, and so on with the rest of your information.
The Inverted Pyramid of Writing
Establishing hierarchy in a design is similar to the way journalists use the inverted pyramid of writing. The most important news is all in the first paragraph or two. The lead covers the who, what, where, when, why and how. It tells you everything you need to know.
The lead is followed by important details that fill out the story. They’re details that provide context or help you understand the story in greater depth. Toward the end of the article is the general and background information that’s nice to know but not necessary to understand what’s going on.
If someone reads only a sentence or two, they should come away with the most important information. The longer they stick around and the more they consume, the more details they’ll get.
Visual hierarchy works the same way, except that it doesn’t have to flow linearly from the top of the page. You get to control where people look first, second and so on
Again, three level of dominance or hierarchy are recommended, although four or five are still possible.
Gestalt Principles And Visual Hierarchy
One of the reasons I started this series with an article about gestalt principles was to show how they lead to many of the design principles we work with.
Visual hierarchy evolves out of gestalt. Focal points are one of the gestalt principles. Your dominant element is an extreme focal point. Both use contrast to stand out. The other side of the coin is similarity, which helps us to see things as the same. Similarity and contrast are necessary ingredients in hierarchy.
Such laws as the ones of prägnanz and symmetry are about creating order and making things simpler and clearer. That’s exactly what you’re doing when you build hierarchy in a design. You’re organizing design elements to establish a sense of order.
The dominant element is likely seen as the figure. The least dominant elements are likely seen as the ground. Really, any principle related to connection or separation can be applied to dominance and hierarchy.
As I’ve done throughout this series, I’ve collected screenshots from a few websites, to share what I see as being the dominant elements, focal points and hierarchy.
This is my opinion. You may see the designs differently and that’s fine. Thinking critically about the designs is more important than agreeing on what we think.
An Event Apart
The dominant element on the home page of An Event Apart1715 is the image at the top. It’s the largest element. It’s also an image of people, which we’re typically drawn to. The large white text across the image offers contrast with the image, calling your attention to it.
The text “The design conference for people who make websites” is probably the most important information that anyone landing on the page needs to know. It’s a very clear statement about what An Event Apart is and who the website is for. It’s arguably the first thing someone new to the website should see.
Focal points include the website’s logo, the dark background behind “Upcoming Events” and the testimonial set as a large bold heading.
If you scroll down the page, you’ll notice that the design mainly uses size and color to create additional focal points and visual hierarchy. Important information is larger. It’s bold. It might be red. Occasionally an image draws the eye.
If you were to visit the page and merely scan it, you would still come away knowing what the website is about, knowing whether any conferences are coming to your area, and having been convinced by the abundance of testimonials.
Paid to Exist
The dominant element on Paid to Exist2119’s home page is the graphic of the backpack at the top of the page. It’s an image and larger than everything else around it. It contrasts with its surroundings because it is a graphic with intrinsic interest and a different shape.
Focal points include the website’s name, some of the text to the right of the graphic, and the big green “Download” button. The social sharing buttons are another focal point.
Looking at the section of content just below, you’ll see three large numbered circles, which serve as focal points and lead you to their accompanying content.
You’re meant to read the information. Notice how the heading above each paragraph reflects the color of its accompanying circle, to draw you in.
Think about the circles and text in terms of visual hierarchy. The big colorful circle (which is one level in the hierarchy) gets your attention and leads you to information that sits on another level of the hierarchy.
Mandy Sims2523 has a single-page website. The very top (not shown in the screenshot) includes an image of Mandy, which for me is the dominant element. Mandy’s name is also displayed as the largest text.
However, I want to draw your attention to a section further down the page. As you might expect, the section’s heading is the largest text there, so it becomes a focal point.
Focal points are also the testimonials down the right side. Notice how the background color of the testimonials is the same as the background color of the active link in the menu.
Without reading the text in this section, you can still clearly see that Mandy offers coaching services to happy clients, because one level of the hierarchy communicates just that.
This last example is from my own website27. It’s a blog post I wrote a couple of years ago. Forgive the indulgence, but unlike the other examples, I know exactly why every element on the page looks the way it does. Whether or not I’ve succeeded is another matter, but I’m certain of the intent.
The page’s main heading is meant to be the dominant element. This is a blog post that I want people to read, but I want to give people a sense of what the article is about before they have to invest their time reading.
The partial image also draws the eye, and you might think it more dominant, but an image like this isn’t necessarily visible at the top of every post on the website.
The logo in the top-left and the RSS icon in the top-right are meant to stand out a little more than the other text, and so both are red. Both would stand out more with a brighter red, but I didn’t want people to be distracted by them. The same red is also used in headings throughout.
The meta information on the left is meant to stand out from the main text. Here, I used local white space to increase the visual weight of plain text. Ideally, someone would glance at it and get information about me and the category and tags for the post.
One thing I decided to do with the design was make links in the body less visible than on most websites. I want people to be able to find them, but I don’t want them to pull you out of the content. I used a blue, which doesn’t stand out much from the black text, and I chose italics instead of bold. The links are not meant to be focal points, so I de-emphasized them visually.
My hope is that someone landing on this or another post on the website will be able to very quickly tell what the article is about and discover some basic information about me, such as my name or the name of the website, before hopefully reading the post.
You can’t emphasize everything. In order for some elements in a design to stand out, other elements must fade into the background.
By varying the visual weight of some elements and the visual direction of others, you can establish different levels of dominance. Three levels is ideal; they’re all that most people can discern.
On one level will sit your dominant element. It’s an entry point into your design, and it should be or be near the most important information on the page. A second level of focal points can draw attention to the next most important information visitors should see. Your third level holds everything else. Most of your content will be on this level.
Designing different levels of emphasis or dominance will create a visual hierarchy in your design, with more important information being more visually prominent. It will help you communicate with visitors quickly and efficiently.
We’re getting close to the end of this series. Next time, we’ll look at compositional flow, movement and rhythm. I’ll talk about leading visitors through a design so that they’re more likely to find information in the order you want them to see it.
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The other day a friend of mine, who works at a university, told me he was on a committee to choose a CMS for the whole university. I definitely don’t envy that task, but I do find it quite interesting.
A lot of us have probably seen companies/institutions make what seems to be embarrassingly bad tech choices. For instance, paying unbelievable monthly fees for simple things like email and calendars when they could be using better and comparatively free Google services (we yell, while nobody listens).
That’s one of the places my mind immediately went when this comes up. Oh wow! What a great opportunity to save this large institution from wasting millions on some weird sleezy software contract and get them on something just as powerful and potentially free.
The other place my mind went is right to some tech that I would go with, if I was in charge. It would be so interesting to do this with WordPress Multisite! Just one set of software to keep updated. Yet, different departments could have their own sites with their own administrative control. Assets could be shared as needed, but each site could be as unique as needed as well. Fun!
I even asked on Twitter for other suggestions as well:
From a friend: “I’m on the committee to pick a CMS for our entire university. Opinions?”
I’ll relay yours!
It’s thinking like I was doing that gets companies into messy situations to begin with. Some TECH DUDE who’s got it all figured out before the considerations are even made very clear.
There is a lot more to consider than just tech.
Who’s going to implement and work on this CMS?
You know how many IT employees they had to work on this and maintain it? Zero.
Yep, zero. They don’t really have a true IT department (or whatever you want to call it) to manage the university’s website(s).
They also aren’t really looking to change that fact. They aren’t trying to build a new department for that. They aren’t trying to contract or hire freelancers to do it. They are trying to just buy a hosted CMS system. Probably from a company that specializes in that kind of thing. A company they can work with the set it up. A company they can call for help, or more likely, have an ongoing contract with to support.
Part of that reasoning is…
Capex vs Opex
That is, “Capital expenditure” vs Operating expenditure”. This looks to be a decent article on that. It’s a big differences for business like a university. One is deductible, one isn’t.
@chriscoyier One big issue is HOW they pay—license fees are capital expenses, developer costs are not.
I’m sure there are other big important considerations here as well that are above my head.
But suddenly, spending a million bucks on a CMS contract doesn’t seem so out of the question. Imagine trying to hire a whole team of local developers to take this project on. It would be hard, slow, and cost just as much if not more. And there is no guarantee it’ll be better, in fact it feels more like a gamble.
As Karen says:
@chriscoyier Some orgs have an easier time paying a $500k license fee than paying for Drupal/WP devs
Obviously it needs to have custom data structures, custom templates, custom URL design. You should be able to build the kind of site you want with it. Some CMSs are more opinionated than others in this regard, but any one worth its salt is a tool toward building the site you need.
It’s the CMS
And yet… it’s certainly still worth your time to consider what CMS’s offer and how they handle certain things.
Can the CMS manage multiple sites?
What is your mobile plan? Can the CMS deal with that?
What is the upgrade process like?
What is the documentation like?
Is community around the CMS important?
Is there paid support available?
Can it handle permission levels that match the university’s structure?
Should you want or need to hire out to help with it, is that possible? Easy?
What features can you imagine your CMS needing? Now vs in a few years time? (e.g. “Let’s add a forum! Let’s give students profiles! We need a chat room!”)
Have you thought about security? Backups?
Who’s going to be actually using this CMS?
This is perhaps the most important consideration.
Not who’s going to be using the website. That’s students and prospective students and yes that’s all important stuff but not what we’re dealing with right now.
Who is going to be adding content, managing content, basically the primary user of the CMS? Can you give them a CMS that is perfect for their needs? That is easy for them to use? That allows them to wrangle that content in the most useful and effective possible way?
@chriscoyier Less important which one they pick, way more important that they plan for time required to define and customize author UX.
The right CMS is a customized one — right? Can you build input screens that are perfectly custom to what these people need? Can you make sure they don’t resort to copying and pasting from Word? From linking up PDFs?
I am not at all envious of my friend because of this. I just can’t imagine a world in which a committee like this, conversations and meetings like the ones he’s having aren’t filled with insanity, confusion, and bullsh*t.
Probably some lightly bad stuff like people that are involved that probably shouldn’t be. People that just aren’t grasping what’s going on. Important people not contributing.
And then probably some awful stuff like people posturing for control. Red tape. Power struggles.
I don’t really have any advice for all that, except to say that it can’t be ignored. The human part of all this is just as big a part than the intellectual tech discovery stuff.
Kerry-Anne Gilowey’s deck “Getting Your Specs in a Row: Your role in CMS selection”
I’m probably not going to maintain this list over time, but if you feel like chiming in about what universities are using what (and even better, how that’s working for them) in the comments, please do!