Visual Hierarchy: Women of Broadway

Maggie Ma
17 min readNov 10, 2020



Project Background

We are to explore visual hierarchy by creating a poster for a local Pittsburgh event. My event is Live from the West Side: Women of Broadway Concert Series presented by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.


8.5 x 11-inch paper, vertical orientation, content in text form, flush left, rag right. Neue Haas Grotesk Display Pro (Light 45, Roman 55, Medium 65, Bold 75).

Part I: Stroke Weight

To begin analyzing my event text, I color blocked my first impressions of the most important to least important lines of text. The most important being the title of the event, the names of the performers, and the website to purchase tickets/read more information. The least important were “Pittsburgh… presents” and “Streamed live from…” because they served more as transition lines of text.

For our first exercise, we were to use two stroke weights per composition to create hierarchy. I created 10 compositions playing around with different weight pairings.

A screenshot of my iterations on Adobe Illustrator. Some pages have a dot in the corner to mark the compositions I think were successful.

I then narrowed my compositions down to these three, and decided the most communicative was the third (with the yellow dot.) I enjoy the visual difference between the 55 Roman and 75 Bold stroke weights, and the composition emphasizes the title of the event and the three featured performers without appearing cluttered.

Most effective use of stroke weight.

Part II: Line Spacing

For this exercise, I struggled with how to categorize and separate my blocks of text. For example, in the 4th composition, I grouped text by Title, Streaming service, Featured Performers, and then the Website. In the 2nd composition, I categorized the Featured Performers even further, creating three separate blocks of information for each artist. In the 5th composition, I wanted to highlight the “Women of Broadway” title by letting the line stand alone.

I combined some of these characteristics and created my final composition, which I believe is the most successful. The separation between the “presents…”, title, and “streamed live from…” isolates the title for emphasis. Each artist is also separated into a text block, creating rhythm and consistency throughout the composition.

Most effective use of line spacing.

Part III: Two Flush-Left Margins

For this exercise, we were to keep one stroke weight but change lines of type horizontally to the left/right to create two flush-left margins. I had a lot of trouble figuring out how to separate the information without the composition becoming too confusing and cluttered. Consistent across most of my iterations is the shift for the date and time for each performer.

I chose this composition (below) for best communication because it highlights titles, studio names, and creates visual separation between each performer.

Most effective use of two flush-left margins.

Part IV: Three Flush-Left Margins

With three margins, I was starting to think the compositions were getting a little too complex and confusing. I played around with indenting the dates and times to demonstrate that they were “subcategories” under each performer, as well as indenting the event title under the “presents…” and the streaming studio under the “streamed live from…”

I chose this composition as my most effective and communicative. I decided to shift the information I perceived as important (the title, performer names, dates, times, websites).

Most effective use of three flush-left margins.

Printing them Out

After completing the exercises, I wanted to see how the text looked in print. I selected a few compositions and annotated some notes down.

Researching Women of Broadway

Live from the West Side: Women of Broadway is a virtual concert event with “beloved Broadway tunes, lesser known gems, heartwarming tales, and live Q&A with the stars” ( It features two-time Tony Award winner Patti LuPone, Tony Award winner Laura Benanti, and Emmy-nominee Vanessa Williams.

Tickets are $30 each, and the performances will take place at The Shubert Virtual Studios on Manhattan’s West Side. Theatre Under the Stars Artistic Director Dan Knechtges says that he hopes…

“These concerts will feel like intimate, cabaret-style experiences, from the comfort of home.”

Pittsburgh Cultural Trust

PCA is a non-profit organization working towards expanding the arts in Pittsburgh. Their work focuses on the cultural and economic development of the Cultural District—a once “downtrodden red light district that now thrives as a vibrant center for culture, art, food, and community” (

“…the Trust strives every day to enrich the city of Pittsburgh’s vibrancy, diversity, and prosperity.”

Three Adjectives

To describe this event, I chose these three adjectives:




Women of Broadway Event Branding

I also looked at the event’s branding and marketing materials, such as their advertisements and digital posters. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find too much information, and the design style was quite bland, although very bold.

Screenshot of the event on the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust website.

Putting it Together

11. 9 . 20

In class, we reviewed our four exercises. I learned that …

  • The fewer bold moments, the more impactful → what’s too much and what’s too little? If you bold too much, what are we supposed to look at?
  • Minimal vs. lengthy tabs → play around with different sized tabs! Don’t use the standard, try playing around with a small and large tab.
  • Fewer but larger groups of text may be more impactful
  • Experiment with text out of the top left margin!

We were also given the opportunity to combine two hierarchal characteristics. I created these three new compositions:

Linespacing & Stroke (left) Margins & Stroke (center) Margins & Linespacing (right)

Part V: Color

Our next step was to play with color and explore how it complements our hierarchical decisions. I began by ripping out some of my favorite color swatches from magazines.

I then combined my pieces into color palettes, playing around with proportions, patterns, number of swatches, warm/cold, complementary, monochromatic, etc. color themes.

I then created these color palettes— some exactly eye-dropped and others simply inspired by the magazine swatches. A lot of the colors I chose were mainly explorational; I didn’t take into consideration the mood and tone I was aiming to set, I mainly wanted to experiment and create balanced and intriguing color themes.

I noticed, however, that naturally, the colors I selected were darker jewel tones, with many reds, purples, oranges, and pinks.

I started applying color to my text, first only using one spot color with black text on white. I also played around with shapes and how they help highlight text.

I then started expanding my palettes to three colors, and made many iterations, mainly because there seemed to always be something off with my color choices. Some of these are, truly, terrible color combos and it pains me to even post them on here…

In this set of three, all the colors fight with each other, especially in the red composition, the contrast between the blue and red make it difficult to read the thinner text. My favorite of this set would have to be the center or first one because the contrast of the dark blue with the bright yellow really make the text stand out.

I also played with pinks. My favorite from this set is the center because the light pink text on the titles and names really make them pop.

I don’t know what I was thinking here because these posters all look quite literally **hideous**. Especially the bright yellow composition in the bottom left corner—the orange text is way too difficult to read.

In this set, I played around with more pinks and reds. I like the center color theme because of the softness the pinks, I don’t think, however, that there’s enough contrast between the primary title text and secondary text.

I actually quite like this purple, yellow, orange color combo, although I’m not sure how much I like it on my poster… I like the warmness of the yellow in the center composition, but I think the text looks more striking against the darker background. The contrast of the darker purple text against the light yellow background in the center composition really make the text stand out though.

I also quite like these color combinations, however, I don’t think it communicates the warm coziness I wanted in my poster due to the cool grey and almost black colors. Although, I think the text looks pretty striking and readable because of high contrast.

Part VI: Scale

We were also able to change the size and positions of text to create more dynamic and creative compositions! To start, I decided to explore compositions by hand cutting text out and formatting them on a sheet of paper. Here are the four scans of explorations I created during this activity.

I then went digital and created some compositions. I often found myself wanting to make the title HUGE and bold, although I definitely should have experimented with making other primary text large as well (such as the performers’ names).

I had a lot of trouble figuring out how to incorporate the title, since it’s so long. I played around a lot with splitting the title into groups, such as “Live from the West Side,” “Women of Broadway,” “Concert Series.”

I also realized the importance of printing these posters out. Text size that appears too small on screen are actually perfect—or slightly too big—in print. I can also get pin my prints to a wall and examine it from a distance—what text jumps out at me first? What text gets lost? Where does my eye read first?

Finally, I also learned the importance of negative space. I think a lot of my compositions are a little too cluttered and condensed. Leaving negative space gives the eyes areas of rest and can make designs look cleaner and more readable. In the image below (right), I played around with negative space by leaving a huge space between the title and performers.

The Color/Scale compositions I selected for class on Thursday:

Feedback from Class:

Left Scale Exercise:

  • Interesting and effective to quiet “Concert Series”
  • More playful to jog title rather than stacking text on top of each other, like right exercise.
  • Can the text on the bottom be even smaller? Do you need to use the whole horizontal for the title “Women of Broadway?” Maybe it only jogs 3/4 through the page. Do the three columns on the bottom align with something (like the title letters)?

Part VII: Image

Now we were allowed to add images into our posters! I was pretty stuck on what imagery I wanted to use—I wanted to convey the intimacy of the event, but broadway shows are… well… usually pretty public. I started off with stock image searches of “broadway,” “theater,” “curtain,” “show,” etc, but that resulted in images of the city, the concert hall, or the grand theater stage. I also searched for “microphone,” but that resulted in very static, centered, and “expected” imagery.

Some images I found from my initial searches.

I realized that all of my images were very general and just *meh.* I decided to narrow my search topics to the performers—LuPone, Benanti, and Williams. I found photos with a lot more movement and emotion, although it was still pretty difficult finding high resolution large images of the artists on stage (it was also kind of difficult filtering through all the glamour/paparazzi shots).

Images of Patti LuPone on stage.
Images of Laura Benanti on stage.
Images of Vanessa Williams on stage.

I also found this super cool vintage photo of LuPone backstage. I love the texture, and the context of her sitting in a chair makes her a lot more approachable, emphasizing the intimacy I wanted in my poster. I tried to find backstage images of all three stars, but I couldn’t find any quality ones of Benanti and Williams. ;(

Imagery Poster Explorations

I realized that all of my images have a black background to mimic the dark theater environment, as if you were viewing a performance on paper. I chose bold and vibrant colors for my text to pop on the page, and played around with scale and color of the title. I liked the compositions with LuPone in red singing on stage, especially when she’s placed to the left side of the page, although I had some issues with image resolution (all photos I found of Patti in this show were too pixelated). I also liked the St. Regis photo—a scene from War Paint starring LuPone. I loved the colors—especially the pink—the drama and mystery of the three women, and the symmetric *but slightly* asymmetric composition.

To prevent tunnel vision, I also wanted to experiment with a completely different poster design style. I really loved the texture on that vintage photo of LuPone and wanted to try a duotone screen print style poster. I experimented with text overlays for a more cohesive overlapping effect. I felt a little stuck in which direction to pursue further, and so I scheduled a feedback session with Vicki.

Feedback from Vicki:

  1. Experiment more with type layout and hierarchy → make what’s big small, and what’s small big → flip things around, just for exploration
  2. Is there a way to include all three women in one composition? Photoshop them all into one image? Or, a series of three posters featuring one artist per poster.
  3. Yellow text of names on bottom reminds of stage lights.
  4. St. Regis Photo → nice asymmetry in the photo but the text is very symmetrical. Like the richer, more magenta pink color (has more personality than the softer pink)
  5. Screenprint Style → none really working quite right just yet ;(
  6. Smallest type too big, tracking too tight.

At this point, it was getting late in the night… and I had to study for that coding test ;( I was feeling a little discouraged and decided to take a break from my poster and work on it again in the morning with a new pair of eyes and perspective.

Critique 1:

After my meeting with Vicki, I explored and created more compositions. I came into class with these five posters:

Feedback from Class:

  1. Eliminating the “St. Regis” from the rightmost poster was a good move → creates more depth and gets rid of that distraction.
  2. Experiment with white text; if you had to highlight only one element with the bright white, what would it be?
  3. Movement of the performers in the three-image poster is interesting, but the composition isn’t quite there yet.
  4. Second poster → movement of the crooked text works well with the style
  5. Strongest posters are the second and fifth.

More Iterations…

Now with a focus image to iterate on, I explored more color usage in the title and bottom type. I had been using a magenta pink color in the titles for almost all of my iterations, but I wanted to try and bring back some of the previous yellow from my past explorations. I also added a little movement to “Women” to make the composition more playful.

I soon realized that I was getting a little stuck in my compositions. Because this image was so symmetrical, I felt confined to creating very centered compositions.

Feedback from Jaclyn:

  1. Brighten walls → from a distance can’t tell what they are.
  2. Too tight “of Broadway” → separate the words a little more.
  3. EVERYTHING IS TOO CENTERED!!!!! Try bleeding words to one side, pulling stuff down so you get a big negative space on top.


With Jaclyn’s suggestions, I played around more with the cropping of the image and breaking the margins of the page. I also photoshopped out one of the back walls to help create asymmetry. I explored compositions by stacking the names, tilting the names, cropping the title, and putting the title and image on the bottom. In the right image, I had an idea of adding a dark gradient to the text as if it were glowing on a dark stage, but I couldn’t figure out the colors and it printed out stripe-y and muddy.

I was feeling strongest with the fourth composition, and so I presented these explorations in my final pre-crit meeting with Vicki.

**Side Note**

I had also been working a teeny bit on my other pink poster, but I got stuck in this composition and felt that it required a lot more work and time to take further and improve than my other poster. It was still a cool exploration though, and I hope I can use the pink in another piece.

Feedback from Vicki:

  1. Try a gradient with orange or red tones for the colored shadow (if you go that route).
  2. Try the names in the middle and the dates on top; try the dates in all capitals?
  3. Definitely more energy having the text bleed off on the side!
  4. Yellow color is better than pink.
  5. Crop first chandelier and maybe even the left wall panel.
  6. How can “Live from the West Side” have more impact?
  7. How can the website have more impact → maybe add the third pink into the website.

The Final Stretch!

Printing out my poster to check color!

I was feeling a lot more confident in my poster after talking with Vicki. I spent the rest of the evening refining the small details. I had a lot of trouble figuring out the upper left corner text, but I definitely agreed with Vicki’s suggestion of making the website the reddish pink color so it pops. I printed MULTIPLE (i’m dramatic i didn’t print that many and use up all the ink don’t worry) copies of my poster because the colors weren’t transferring correctly. This was probably one of my favorite moments of this project, I thought it was so exciting seeing everyone’s poster iterations pinned to the wall, and we were all giving each other feedback and ideas; it reminded me a lot of the same collaborative, supportive, and hectic energy we used to have in freshman studio…before this freaking pandemic ;(

I made changes to the bottom text by capitalizing the dates and switching the names to the middle row. I also changed the hierarchy and colors of the text in the upper left corner. I cropped out the left chandelier and wall, and placed more emphasis on the website by changing its location, color, and stroke weight.

For our last crit, I came in with this poster:


  1. The text feels like it’s glowing as if it were in a theater! :D Good job improving on the symmetrical composition.
  2. Top left type still feels too scattered “Live from the West Side” to “Women of Broadway” has too much of a gap.
  3. Maybe leave just the website in the top left corner?
  4. Really nice color on the text that is cohesive with the image.

Final Refinements

I made some minor adjustments—nesting the “Live from the West Side” and moving “PCT presents” up and increasing the stroke weight.

Here is my final poster:


This project was pretty difficult, but I had a lot of fun exploring and iterating and seeing my final poster develop over these two weeks. I learned a lot about how small nuances such as the shade of colors, the cropping of the image, a slight crook in the text, or a push of the margins can completely change the composition and energy of my poster. I’m pretty satisfied with my final poster, and I definitely think it improved from the previous static, center-aligned iterations. Throughout this project, I learned a lot about how to “activate” areas throughout a poster with color, imagery, and text, and how I can guide viewers eyes to places of emphasis with contrast in scale, proximity, and color.

Our wall of final posters!

Our class’s final posters pinned up on the wall.

The “evolution” of my poster:

It’s pretty cool to see how the black colored background from the color exercise translated into the final poster.