City Theatre

Joseph Kim
18 min readSep 11, 2020


Project 2: Visual Hierarchy

Part One Overview:

September 11, 2020


Research your assigned local organization (City Theatre) and think of three adjectives and a sentence that describes the event.

Using 8.5 x 11 paper, a vertical orientation, use Neue Haas Grotesk in its three strokes (Light 45, Roman 55, Medium 65, Bold 75). Content should be flush left, rag right, and 17 pts with leading of 21.

Here are the four exercises:

  1. Stroke weights: select two stroke weights
  2. Linespacing: insert one linespace between any two lines of type
  3. Horizontal shift: two flush-left margins
  4. Horizontal shift: three flush-left margins

*when in one exercise, the other variables are constant

Initial Research:


What is the City Theatre?

Who? What? When?

Below is the website of the City Theatre. As you can see, the layout is very radical, breaking the grid completely (if there even was one to begin with). The brutalist composition is provocative, and young.

Website and instagram page of the City Theatre (2020)

After browisng the website, and reading some articles, I was able to understand City Theatre’s history, and their mission going forwards.

Notes taken, regarding the City Theatre’s history, their company values, and mission.

The City Theatre has a long history with Pittsburgh. They are a “not-for-profit” organization that strives to connect with their community through the arts. City Theatre is accessible for all, and works very hard to be inclusive.

Three Adjectives

Accessible, Provocative, Bold

Sentence that Describes the City Theatre

The City Theatre provides an artistic home for the development and production of contemporary plays of stance and ideas that engage and challenge a diverse audience

What is Neue Haas Grotesk?

How do the constraints look like?

Analyzing the Hierarchy

I began boxing out the information depending on their hierarchy, color coded to first, second, third and fourth level of information.

Analyzing the hierarchy

To assign the hierarchy, I had to think from the perspective of the viewer/attendee.if I were to be interested in going to this event, what information is important? — aka what needs to stand out the most?”

  • The title of the festival should be the largest.
  • The date of the overall festival should be second largest
  • The “presents” information is the lowest hierarchy because it takes away attention from the individual event title and date, thus increasing readability.

Stroke Weights:

September 11, 2020


For the stroke weights, I created four compositions: (Light 45, Bold 75), (Light 45, Medium 65), (Light 45, Bold 75), and (Roman 55, Bold 75).

I purposely printed out the files as a hard copy so I could move closer and further. This way, I was able to easily distinguish a cluttered composition vs a strong composition.

Total of 5 compositions were created, but the second one to the right was omitted.

What is most communicative?

Best composition out of the four

I chose the composition with the combination of (Light 45, Bold 75). This composition emphasizes the title of the event and the date of the sub events. As a result, it effectively divides up the content, the date working both as a “break” before every performance title, but also standing out from the rest of the content because of its importance. There is just enough difference between the two weights that it is not overwhelming, but effectively creates hierarchy.



The linespacing exercise made me realize that simply adding space before and after important information (sometimes) doesn’t do the work. As you can see below, I had to omit the second composition because there was too much rhythm. Although I folllowed my previous assignment of hierarchy, at times, it is more communicative when relevant information is close to one another.

The second composition was omitted because it had too much rhythm

What is most communicative?

Best composition out of the four

I chose this composition as the most communicative piece. By including a space between “city theatre presents” and the “date” of the event, there is more emphasis to the title — although the three are related to each other, the “sandwich” of relevant content breaks up the rhythm present throughout the composition. Next, although in the stroke exercise I bolded the individual dates, for this exercise, I decided to group relevant information together instead. If I were to add a linespace between the date and the sub event title, the information would be so scattered and repetitive that it wouldn’t be digestible.

Horizontal Shift: Two flush-left Margins


With the constraints of two flush-left margins, it was hard to create effective hierarchy and composition.

Three compositions using two flush-left margins

What is most communicative?

Best composition out of the three

I chose this composition for my “best” one because the most important and relevant information at the top are clearly distinguished and grouped. The other compositions were either too repetitive or had unclear hierarchy. By separating the dates to the left rag, I am able to provide focus, but also create a repetitive element that clearly breaks the different sections.

Horizontal Shift: Three flush-left Margins

Although I had more flexibility with the constraints, it was still challenging to create effective composition.

Three compositions created with three flush-left margins

What is most communicative?

Best composition out of the three

I chose this composition out of the three because it effectively separates the main three hierarchy present in the information: The title, the date of individual events, and its name.

In Class Exercise:

September 15, 2020


During class, we took a look at several examples made by our classmates, and discussed how to create an effective composition with constraints. Here are some key ideas to consider:

  1. Resist the urge to CENTER
  2. Resist the urge to FILL the page
  3. ACTIVATE the white (negative) space
  4. Sometimes, less is MORE

When talking about City Theatre, and their mission as a “not-for-profit” organization, Vicki’s comment about the venue, Hazelwood Garden, made me wonder — How can I visually represent the space? Hazelwod Garden is a large, new open space that is open for City Theatre’s social distancing festival. Therefore, I decided to play with the margins to really activate the negative space to evoke the openness of the venue.

Three in class exercises

We had two options for the in class exercise:

  1. Alter the stroke weight and the line spacing
  2. Alter the stroke weight and the left margins
Analysis of the three in class exercises

Here are some interesting points found in the compositions above:

  • Presence of entry points: Where and How does the reader begin to read the content displayed?
  • Presence of rhythm and its effectiveness: Is there rhythm on the page? If so, does it enhance the readability and understandability?

How is the negative space used?

Layout of the negative space used in the compositon

The use of uneven margins enhances the content, at times, making it feel more special.

What is most communicative?

Best composition out of the three

I chose this composition as the most communicative out of the three above. This layout is simple: The flush single left margin organizes the information in a clean manner, while the information related to one another is grouped into sections. When considering this event, the individual dates are the most important — it is a festival, so people want to know who is performing when. The use of white space is intentional: It mimics the open space of the venue, and the groups of information resemble cars lined up.

Part Two Overview:


Pick one composition that is the most communicative and do the following:

  1. Alter the color: Start simple, and apply color to enhance hierarchy. Start with one, and play around
  2. Alter the size, and stroke weights: Select any two stroke weights, and use scale and stroke weight to emphasize hierarchy. Consider changing the order of information.


September 16, 2020


What color is used for The Drive-in Arts Festival?

Before diving into color, I took a look at the colors used today. I asked myself questions like:

“Are the colors effective? What are its shortfalls? How are the colors perceived, and what does it say about the event? Is it representative of the adjectives, their mission statement?”

Analysis of colors on City Theatre website

Are the colors effective?

  • Colors are loud and attention-grabbing
  • They are easy to read

How are the colors perceived?

  • The colors are very intense
  • Feels very “young” but not modern young, but more like… 2000s young.
  • Makes it feel like a pop concert, or a Nickelodeon event
  • Does not feel important

What are its shortfalls (does it align with their mission statement/adjectives)?

  • The elements are fighting for attention
  • The content is bold and the colors are provocative — but its too much

Collecting color swatches

Swatches obtained from magazines

I did not have a system when choosing these colors. I simply looked for solid swatches in magazines, and organized it by its hue.

Color palette created with the swatches

In doing this exercise, I learned a few things:

  • Scale of swatch matters: Some color-ways look better when one color is dominant than the other (accent color). The ratio is really important
  • High contrast colors are hard to work with: Having too many can be overwhelming.



Using the magazine swatches, I began transferring the colors digitally using Illustrator. I chose 6 color schemes that aligns with the three adjectives, Accessible, Provocative, and Bold.

Color palette chosen for the color exploration

It is important to note the scale of individual colors within their own group. Some colors are purely there as accent colors create visual interest. If overused, the colors can be jarring.

Assigning colors

This was a simple exercise to see how a single color can enhance hierarchy.

Assigning colors to enhance hierarchy

For the next exploration, I began applying color to both the text and the background to create visual interest and emphasize hierarchy.

7 Iterations created to enhance hierarchy

In doing this exercise, I rarely used the color schemes from the magazine. Using all of the colors in the swatches resulted in a poster with elements all fighting for attention. The magazine swatches were helpful to get started, but holistically, the colors were too intense.

What is most communicative?

Most communicative color out of the seven iterations

I chose these two designs as most communicative pieces. The use of color is simple, but intentional, providing emphasis at the title and the date of the event. The accent colors are bold, but the composition on the left may not be as provocative as the one on the right. The composition on the right will have trouble with readability once it is printed, so I will need to find the right balance.

Scale and Weight:


Before starting this exercise, I thought back to our first project: analyzing grids and layout. For a more cohesive layout, I create margins and made sure to line up the components when necessary.

6 iterations designed to create visual interest

The process for this exercise was very slow. I kept zooming in and out, squinting my eyes to see the overall composition and the use of negative space. The grand white space is reminiscent of the venue, Hazelwood Green, a big open space.

What is most communicative?

The most communicative design out of the six

The composition above is the most communicative out of the six. The layout is simple, yet effective, providing a lot of room to breathe. The use of negative space is intentional — placed to mimic the large venue. The hierarchy of information has been enhanced through variation in weight and scale.

In Class Critique:

September 17, 2020


We hung up our two best color compositions and scale compositions. Some important points were brought up during our discussion:

  • Accent color is working, but the body content bleeds into the background
  • The purple to peach is good — we know exactly where you want the viewers to look first (the title)
  • The palette is “mature”
  • Too much contrast everywhere is bad — be mindful and use it sparingly
  • Think about rhythm of words: depending on how you space the content, and in what line you place the content, the understandability changes
  • Maybe the event titles can have first hierarchy — what really should be emphasized?
  • Sideways type — Don’t make type hard for people to access.

Part Three Overview:

September 18, 2020


Using an iteration to one of the previous exercises, consider how the role of an image might play in communicating the content’s message. Image can be photographic, graphic, abstract etc. Does the image enhance or challenge the content? Is it explicit or implicit translation of content? What is dominant, the words or image? Do not be too obvious or too cute.


Before going back to illustrator, I wanted to draw out some compositions with the visuals I had in mind. This way, I am able to quickly see if the composition is effective.

Quick exploration with visuals and composition

Here are some more iterations I did on paper.

Four different compositions for the poster

I wanted to create a dynamic poster. The viewer will first be drawn by the large vehicle, then be guided to the title (because the intentional placement of the car points at the title), then to the information, and loop back around. I wanted to play with overlaps between text and visuals to create more depth within the page. The Volkswagen Bus was chosen intentionally because the “Drive-in” aspect is really important for this event. Not only, but the VW Bus is symbolic of free expression, and the arts. I plan on having monotone everything, but the title, and the bus for a clear hierarchy.

Why a car? — Why the VW Bus?

1963 Volkswagen Bus

First, why the car? In analyzing the event, I thought the most important part about the Drive-in Arts Festival was the Drive-in” aspect of it. That is what separates this festival from others — City Theatre’s flexibility and brilliance in adjusting to the current pandemic.

Next, why the 1963 Volkswagen Bus? If there was one vehicle in the world that is both an icon and carries so much culture, it is the VW Bus. It is an icon for the arts, peace, love, and freedom. “The hippie movement fell in love with the bus for a few reasons. It was cheap to maintain, easy to work on, and big enough to live in.” (McKeel Hagerty, classic car market expert and the CEO of Hagerty Insurance).

Mocking up the Designs

September 19, 2020

In order to have a better understanding of my ideations above, I mocked up a rough composition on illustrator and used Procreate to draw out the VW bus before turning it into a vector image.

Mock-up poster done in Procreate *Composition is not final

The color of the VW Bus works well to capture the viewer’s attention from afar. The car is reduced to its core shapes to not steal the attention from the poster’s content. The background design elements can be improved — it doesn’t look intentional.

Creating the Vector image

September 20, 2020

In order to create the vector image of the bus with the right perspective and angle, I had to draw the car by hand. I used procreate to draw the structure of the base, and went back onto Illustrator with the pen tool.

Progression of vector drawings

I made sure to use the color palette of the poster for the bus in order to end up with a cohesive composition.


September 21, 2020

Before the Tuesday class, I iterated on my initial design. It took a surprisingly long time because of the design elements. The swirls needed to have the right arc for a cohesive composition.

Various iterations (left to right in progress) *colors altered for print

There were many challenges during the iterating process. The biggest problem was the inconsistency between the on-screen colors versus the printed colors — this was more noticeable because of the standard printer we have in studio. In order to mitigate this issue, I enhanced the colors on illustrator so it would look “normal” when printed out. I also had a lot of trouble with the organically-shaped design elements. Every angle had to be just right in order for it to look intentional, yet still balancing the hierarchy between the graphic and the content. I added the drop shadows behind the graphics in order to create depth and movement. The “round” composition surrounds the information, and keeps the viewer engaged throughout the poster. As you can see above, I tried using photography for my imagery, but I thought the narrative and its relationship and relatedness to the actual event lacked significantly.

In-class Critique

September 22, 2020

We were asked to bring at least 2 works that incorporate images. For this in-class critique, I brought two same compositions with different color palettes.

Two iterations for the class critique *colors altered for print

Why these two?

I chose these two compositions because it was the most effective out of the 16 iterations. The simple alignment of the information is a nice complement to the high energy illustration. The accent color is used sparingly but with intention to enhance the hierarchy.

Comments about the poster:

  • Increase the tracking of the small text — it is fading into the page
  • Play with overlaps between the type and the illustration.
  • “City Theatre Presents” and the “date” should be moved up towards the title — the negative space between the title and the list is awkward.
  • The swirls are fighting for attention — there might be too much
  • The center line of the bus should be readjusted with the circle in the center.
  • Increase the saturation of the spot color for the title so it doesn’t compete with the bus illustration

What to do next:

For the next iteration, I am planning on making the colors of the “swirls” more cohesive and less “busy” by decreasing the luminosity of the colors. I plan on being more attentive to the angle of the “swirls” and especially the part where the bus illustration overlaps with the “swirls” — these are small moments but crucial to the overall composition and the satisfaction of the poster. I think my biggest goal is to design with intention.

Personal Critique

September 23, 2020

For the critique today, finalized two iterations with a different layout — to be more specific, a different location of the vehicle.

Two iterations for the personal critique

As you can see above, I began to make design choices with intention. I became more attentive to the angles, to the spacing, overlapping of the bus, the order of the color presented with the “swirls”, and more.

Critique with Vicki:

  • The composition of the poster is good and effective
  • The hierarchy is effective — the use of hierarchy in the information, especially the treatment of scale and weight present in the list
  • The quality of the poster and the illustration is effective.
  • I’m losing the arts” — The drive-in aspect is emphasized well, but there isn’t much telling the viewer about the content of the event.
  • Try to emphasize the “arts” through the treatment of type — perhaps the artist name can be in white. Regardless, add more emphasis to the content.
  • Get rid of the “the” and the “at” in “the Drive-in Arts Festival” and “at Hazelwood Green” respectively.

My response:

I do agree with Vicki in that the “arts” and the “music” are not present enough in the poster. However, I purposely went for a visual that evokes the mood of the event, rather than literally representing the content of the event through the visuals. For my next iteration, I will try to emphasize the arts and the music through typography, providing more emphasis on the artists rather than the date.

Iterations Part 2

For this iteration, I focused on altering the typography to enhance the “arts” and the “music.” As you can see below, I had to alter the shade of purple in order to accommodate for the printer.

Iterations after Vicki’s critique

I tried to scale up the “arts festival” but the order of the information was too awkward for me to do that. As a result, I ended up decreasing the weight of the dates and instead bolded and increased the size of the event titles. I paid more attention to the leading between the events in order to enhance the hierarcy, and moved the date down to the bottom with the accent color in order to create rhythm of spot color on the page. The title has been decreased because it was too overpowering, colliding with the image.

Final Critique

September 24, 2020


Web version to the left, web version to the right

For the final critique, we were asked to hang up our posters on the wall.

Everyone’s poster on the wall

Before jumping into the critique, Vicki asked us some key driving questions:

  • Which poster draws your attention from afar? (this question considers the imagery, color, type, scale etc).
  • Which image does not say much about the content?

By asking these core questions, we were able to talk about how and why some posters were effective. A lot of the points were made about the use of photographs, and how that is successful in telling the viewer a story about the event — does it reflect the content of the event? Does it balance with the type?

Brett Yasko, a guest professor for the critique, talked a lot about pushing the use of type, and exploring how kinetic and non kinetic types can enhance the composition (if it fits with the content of the event). He also talked about the emotional aspect of photography, how some images are inherently more effective— for example, having an image of a person staring back at the viewer will have a different effect than an image of a static space.

Vicki talked a lot about the use of hierarchy within the micro content how can we differentiate specific lines of content in a high volume text? She also stressed the use of negative space— bringing the viewers eyes through the page effectively. Does it satisfy the viewer?

Here are a few points mentioned about my poster:

  • The use of hierarchy within the micro content can be improved.
  • Either introduce a new color, or make the event name a little brighter.
  • Move the bus to the left to provide more negative space — pay attention to the overlap of the bus to the design elements surrounding the page.

For my final iteration, I will be working on enhancing the hierarchy of the event titles, and pay closer attention to the negative space and the overlaps. It will be helpful to look at the poster from afar, and take a visual break in order to have a fresh perspective.

Final Poster

September 27, 2020


After making a few changes, I put my poster up to see how it would look like with other flyers.

Final Poster
Poster presented on the bulletin board


Looking back, I learned a lot about my working process and also the objectives of the project: effectively using color, image, and type to enhance hierarchy. In the process of developing the project, I found myself having tunnel vision with my designs. Of course there were time constraints, but I would like to be more explorative for the next project. I found it really interesting how a lot of the discussions during the critique was about the use of imagery, and its effectiveness in telling a narrative about the event. I felt like people wanted to see a literal representation of the event — but I wonder if I will be able to find a balance between creating an ambiguous design that evokes the emotion of the event but still shows the viewer the content of the event.

It was a challenge for me to approach this project with an illustration, but I am quite happy with my result (I just think I’ve been looking at it for too long). If I were to do this project again, I will definitely explore the use of photography and being more risk-taking with my use of typography.