Using Design Psychology to Create More Effective Logos

Research has shown that as much 93% of all purchase decisions are based on visual perceptions, that means a strong logo is crucial to the success of any brand or product. With easily accessible visual research and design technology at your fingertips, it may seem easier than ever to create logos of resonance and quality. But before you get started, it’s important to understand a bit about the science that underlies what makes certain logos so effective. In order to create powerful and effective logos, you must first have a basic understanding of what gives them their psychological impact.

Logo design psychology is a school of thought that shows us how basic design elements can be used to forge deep emotional connections with a product’s target audience. Researchers believe that people naturally associate specific attributes, qualities, and emotions with each of the three basic elements of logo design: shape, color, and font. Once you know the kinds of ideas or feelings your audiences might attribute to certain design elements, you can harness the power of their subconscious associations to differentiate your brand and help it become more successful.

Designers make logos with all kinds of colors and shapes, but the best understand why ( image source )

Designers make logos with all kinds of colors and shapes, but the best understand why (image source)

SHAPES IN LOGO DESIGN

Newborn babies perceive the world as a collection of shapes, which may help explain the power of shapes to evoke strong emotional responses in adults. Lines, circles, curves and other common shapes are perceived in widely shared and remarkably specific ways. We organize shapes into three major categories: geometric, abstract/symbolic, and organic, each carrying its own set of emotional responses.

Geometric shapes are structured, often symmetrical, and surround us in the man-and-woman-made world:

  • Squares and rectangles represent strength and stability, and create feelings of trust and security. They are often found in logos for banks and similar institutions.

  • Circles, ovals, and ellipses are never-ending and represent earth, sun and eternity. We associate these shapes with harmony, community, and mystery. These shapes generate positive emotions and are frequently used in automobile logos.

  • Triangles are energetic and dynamic and generally suggest motion and direction. They are often used in logos for products targeted at a masculine market.

  • Curves are associated with feminine attributes and tend to represent friendship, love, support, and happiness. Curves are used memorably in the familiar (and highly effective) Coca-Cola logos

  • Vertical lines typically represent strength and aggression.

  • Horizontal lines are associated with tranquility and community.

The shapes you choose matters ( image source )

The shapes you choose matters (image source)

Organic shapes like  those found in nature, include flowers, leaves, animals and clouds, and typically appear irregular or asymmetrical. In logo design. They represent rejuvenation, originality, spontaneity, and balance, and are often intended to soothe or calm consumers. Organic shapes are often used in representative styles — a drawing of the sun or a specific animal incorporated into a logo design. Grocery stores and other food or natural-product businesses tend to rely on organic shapes to build their brands.

Abstract and symbolic shapes in logos communicate abstract ideas or artistic interpretations of organic shapes. Prime examples include Apple’s minimalist logo and NBC’s memorable peacock. These shapes often are used to highlight the unique attributes of a product or company.

Different colors convey different moods, ideas, and associations ( image source )

Different colors convey different moods, ideas, and associations (image source)

COLOR IN LOGO DESIGN

There’s no element more crucial to logo design than color. Research strongly suggests that people make subconscious judgments about products very quickly, and that these decisions are based largely on their responses to color. The qualities associated with each color are well established. It’s essential to use the right colors for each logo and its target audience. Here’s a quick guide to colors and their subliminal meanings:

Red: Bold, passionate, exciting. (Used in logos by Red Bull and Disney)

Orange: Innovative, modern, affordable. (Nickelodeon and Penguin Books)

Yellow: Warm, confident, optimistic. (McDonald’s and Shell Oil)

Blue: Honest, sincere, trustworthy. (Ford and Visa)

Green: Fresh, earthy, mature. (Starbucks and Spotify)

Purple: Wise, innovative, luxurious. (Hallmark and Yahoo!)

Black: Formal, sophisticated, authoritative. (BBC and Sony)

Multi-colored: Positive, playful, daring. (Google and eBay)

Multiple colors can make logos seem playful and daring ( image source )

Multiple colors can make logos seem playful and daring (image source)

FONTS IN LOGO DESIGN

Like shapes and colors, individual fonts have personalities and meanings for audiences, and the way we use them can trigger subtle emotional responses. Your choice of font says a lot  about your brand, your clients, and your target audience, and getting it wrong can make your logo ineffective or worse, irrelevant. There are five general font styles; here’s what you need to know about each.

Serif: Serif fonts include tiny tags or flags on most letters that enhance readability. They generally communicate tradition, respect, and stability when used in a logo. Font examples include Times New Roman and Georgia. These types of fonts are used in logos by Volvo and HSBC.

Sans Serif: As the name implies, Sans Serif fonts do not include tags on letters. They feel modern, straightforward, and unadorned. Traditionally used in headlines and other large type treatments, sans serif fonts but have become a digital-era standard for text. Font examples include Helvetica and Arial. These types of fonts are used in logos by Microsoft and Chanel.

Script: Script fonts mimic handwriting and come across as personal. They evoke creativity, elegance, and femininity. Font examples include Pacifico and Allura. These types of fonts are used in logos by Cadillac and Instagram.

Modern: Despite the name, “modern” fonts have existed since the 1700s. They exude intelligence, determination, and exclusivity. Font examples include Futura and Empire. These types of fonts are used in logos by Facebook and Calvin Klein.

Decorative: Decorative or display fonts generally are fun, unique, and flexible, but a great variety of moods can be established though use of decorative fonts. Font examples include Jokerman and Gigi. These types of fonts are used in logos by Disney and Lego.

Sans serif fonts are unadorned and straightforward ( image source )

Sans serif fonts are unadorned and straightforward (image source)

Of course, design elements aren’t everything. You have to combine these foundational ideas in new ways in order to create original work. You also have to pay attention to your client, understand your target audience, sketch drafts of your ideas before committing to a design, and make sure your logos work in every context (from billboards to Instagram). But if you can manage all that and harness the powers of logo design psychology into your design? You’ll be on your way creating the kinds of unique, powerful logos that every business needs to succeed.


Want to learn more about logo design? Find hundreds of Skillshare classes on how to create better logos here.