Shadows: Bumps and Dents

Have you noticed that it has become almost imperative that each site have at least one graphic, text or image, that casts a shadow?  Thanks to Photoshop® and many other image editors, it’s as easy as clicking a link and pressing OK to create this effect. So now, almost anybody can sprinkle their site with images and text that seem to magically float above the page.  Although, floating text is eye catching, it doesn’t add much to our understanding of an illustration and often just adds clutter to the presentation. However, properly used, cast shadows can be a powerful element to clarify the relationship between spatial illusions. For instance, shadows can be used to determine whether we are looking at a bump or a dent.

To fake volume on a flat page, the designer relies on the viewer’s experience in the real world. If something, even minutely, fails to conform to the viewer’s real world experience, the illusion will fail. The viewer may not understand why a shadow looks wrong but she does know what works. So what do we know about shadows that will determine what’s a bump and what’s a dent?

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