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Straight Lines Reduce Effort


Explanations > Perception > Visual Perception > Straight Lines Reduce Effort

Description | Example | Discussion | So what?



When we look at an image or a scene, we follow lines within this. When these lines are straight, our eyes speed along them as they are easier to follow.

A consequence of this is that when an image has more straight lines, it requires less cognitive effort to interpret the image. Note, however, that more lines increases effort, especially when they intersect with one another. in other words, to create a calm image, you should use a minimum number of lines and that these should be as straight as possible.


A photo of a straight country road, with the camera in the middle of the road, has a few lines converging into the distance. This is a very easy image to understand. On the other hand, a cityscape requires more cognitive effort as there are now many straight lines, angles and otherwise more things to think about.

Modernist architecture often uses a limited number of straight lines, each carefully chosen to interact with others and produce a minimalist and pleasing effect.


The eye follows lines like cars follow a road, speeding up on straights and slowing down on corners. Like driving, steering the eye can add interest, but it also adds effort. Using straight lines eases and calms, although too much might bore the viewer who is seeking interest.

Remember also that lines do not sit alone. Lines create outlines by which we recognize shapes. They interact with one another. They cut images in two and have various other effects. In consequence, when reviewing or planning an image, the straightness, direction, length and number of lines needs to considered as a whole.

So what?

When producing images think about how much cognitive effort you want to include when people look at it. A certain degree of effort is useful, not only to sustain interest but also to occupy the mind while you are delivering your core message. Too much effort, however, may too tiresome and turn the viewer away, so do be careful with this.

See also

Lines are Like Eye-Roads


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