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Gradient of Lines


Explanations > Perception > Visual Perception > Gradient of Lines

Description | Example | Discussion | So what?



Lines have 'steepness', or 'gradient'. They can be horizontally flat have a gentle gradient or a steep gradient. They can also slope up or slope down in the direction in which we are reading them (often left-to-right, which in many cultures is the normal reading direction).

Lines which have a positive gradient (slope upwards) can have the implication of:

  • Distance, with steeper gradient indicating things further away and negative gradient indicating very close.
  • Distant future, with steeper gradient indicating the further future and pointing down meaning 'now'.
  • Going from inferior to superior (height is often seen as meaning 'better' or superior in some way).
  • Uplifting emotion (moving up the line also 'raises mood').

Lines which have a negative gradient (slope down) can have implications which are the reverse of the above (nearby, depressing, etc.).


An image of a policeman giving directions to a pedestrian shows the policeman pointing at about 45 degrees upwards, suggesting that the destination is a long way off.

An advertisement shows a person looking up at a giant version of the product being advertised.

An album cover shows an entire audience looking up to the right towards the musician on the stage, subtly signalling approval.


If an arrow is shot from a bow, firing it flat means it will not go far. Firing it straight up also means it will not go far (and could be quite hazardous!). To make it go as far as possible (and assuming no headwind), the optimum angle is 45 degrees. We often realize this naturally and throw a ball at this angle when we want it to go far. We also naturally read a 45 degree angle that is showing movement as being distant.

Up and down are also used in metaphors of emotion, where we talk about such as an 'uplifting mood' or 'feeling down'. It is a short step to go from physical moving up or down to the emotional equivalent.

Photographers know that diagonals are nice in an image as they cut the picture into two simple triangles. A line from the top left to bottom right may guide the eye if the viewer starts at the top left (as in reading a book), but can also be emotionally depressing without the viewer realizing this.

So what?

Use these principles to serve your purpose. For example use rising gradients to make your viewers feel good, looking up to products or something pleasant. Or use declining gradients to give immediacy.

See also

Eye Follows Line


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