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VM Basics: diagonals

In the world of visual language horizontal lines make us relax: think of horizons and landscapes. Vertical lines make us pay attention: think of prison bars, metal gates and fences, Belisha beacons and zebra crossings. But diagonals do something totally different. Diagonals suggest movement.

This is a partly because we read from right to left: the eye (and therefore, the human brain) tends to observe from left to right. Therefore we read a VM display from left to right as our eyes move along the edge created by the diagonal. It is a VM truth that an upward-tilted line looks more optimistic than a downward tilted one – just as we like to see a graph of sales or share prices moving upwards towards the right.

Consider as further evidence just how many active-sportswear brands incorporate a diagonal in their logos: Nike, Adidas, Reebok, Puma, Slazenger, New Balance, Columbia, Kappa, Li Ning, Oasics, Head, Cat, Quiksilver, Nautica, Sperry, Umbro, and Le Coq Sportif, to name but a few. We could even argue that the tail of Lacoste’s crocodile is on a diagonal.

Let’s take a look at VM use of the diagonal again: Tiffany’s current niche windows are a lovely example of the focus that the diagonal encourages. The eye moves along the line towards the focus of the display, the merchandise. The metallic silver ‘V’ created by the foreground emphasizes the key locket suspended in the middle of the V, and is further accentuated by the shadowy diagonal steps in the background.

This strategy works equally well in reverse with an inverted ‘V,’ this time in metallic blue, echoed by a shadow-like, cream, inverted ‘V,’ where another key locket is suspended below the apex of the inverted ‘V’ with a plain backdrop.

Next up, the strong diagonal, grey comet tail, which supports the layered circular discs in the centre, acts as focus, drawing the eye to the golden-yellow central dias on which are displayed three key bracelet charms.

Lastly for Tiffany, the diagonal screen ‘wings’ at the left and top of the window act as a spotlight, showcasing the flat golden disc in the centre, which displays three key-shaped earrings. Notice how the muted colour palette accentuates the silvery colour of the merchandise?

VM practitioners with good memories may remember Burberry doing something similar on a larger scale using foils on the windows in its Regent Street, London, and Barcelona store in 2009. These giant, blown-up stripes from the check were back in the days they used the plaid as a distinctive trope of the brand.

A last point. Sometimes people ask: what happens in Japan where they read Japanese from right to left? Or in China where characters can be read vertically or horizontally? The answer is, for international VM that doesn’t matter very much because customers will usually also read English and be accustomed to the idea of looking form right to left. Maybe if we were talking about VM in a remote village where no one reads English, it might be a problem, but in reality we are unlikely to find much VM in a remote village, so looking from left to right works pretty much universally.

Key points

• Lead the eye along the edge of the diagonal towards the merchandise.

•  Doubling the diagonal to form a ‘V’ shape adds variation.

• Keep the focus on the merchandise.

• A diagonal moving up from lower left to top right is perceived as being more optimistic (and therefore desirable) than one that moves downwards.