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Subordination: Universal Design Principles


Subordination: Universal Design Principles


Subordination Universal Design Principles
Subordination Universal Design Principles

In the previous article on Universal Design Principles we discussed how to apply Emphasis, a powerful principle that helps you establish focus and create a sense of hierarchy. Today we review subordination, which together with emphasis are used to create a better hierarchy.

Emphasis is used to make elements stand out and become the focus of the design, while subordination is used to mute or soften elements, giving less weight and focus to your design.

Adding more emphasis to an element helps it stand out, however you can achieve the same result by silencing the elements around it.

To use this universal design principle effectively helps to think about the elements and information of your design with weights, we could set 3; primary, secondary and tertiary information.


Let's analyze the weights of the example from the previous article, reviewing the 3 information weights (primary, secondary and tertiary).

Primary information

The elements or primary information are those that the user needs to see at a glance, that is why they are the ones that should have more emphasis.

Secondary information

They are the elements that help the user to enter the context, but that is not mandatory to view. You can give it a secondary weight in your design. It should not stand out more than the primary information.

Tertiary information

The elements with less importance or even that do not add value, you can eliminate or attenuate it, with less weight than secondary information.

How to create emphasis or subordination?

After analyzing the elements that you can emphasize by applying emphasis or silencing by applying subordination, you can use any of the following universal design principles to create emphasis or subordination:

  • Proportion: Describes the size of an element, compared to those around it. Larger items will have more emphasis and smaller items will be subordinate.
  • White space: Describes the distance between elements to create grouping or isolation.
  • Movement: It is the use of elements to suggest direction or movement. Very useful to make the user understand how to “move” through the design towards the focal point.
  • Contrast: Indispensable to create differentiation between an element and those that surround it through color, size, shape or alignment.

Each of these universal principles can be used individually or in combination to create emphasis and/or subordination in your design. We will review these other design principles in future articles.


Subordination is a powerful universal design principle, which together with emphasis helps you establish focus and create a sense of hierarchy, giving less weight and/or focus to the different elements that your design contains.


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