Square? Circular? Geometric? Organic? These elements actually communicate different things. Be sure you know what those are.
September 14, 2018 8 min read
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Your company’s logo is the visual figurehead of your brand, so it’s important to get it right. Whether intentional or not, every detail of your logo will influence people who see it. That’s why nothing should be arbitrary.
In fact, it’s in your best interest to make sure that every logo design choice is intentional and communicates the message you want to convey, because thoughtless design choices lead to misleading or confusing logos.
Worse, thoughtless choices can lead to logos that don’t say anything at all.
What follows is a deeper look at the psychology of logo design, in terms of fonts, shapes, lines, colors and composition — and how these elements affect your logo’s influence on customers’ purchasing decisions.
The psychology of fonts
Fonts have a psychological impact on people. The emotion they generate is directly tied to the shape of the letters and our psychological response to those shapes. So, how do you know which font style will work best for your business?
The Software Usability Research Laboratory (SURL) at Wichita State University ran a study that examined the traits people associate with varying fonts. Among the people surveyed, traditional fonts including Arial or Times New Roman were categorized as “stable” and “mature,” but were also considered “unimaginative” and “conformist.”
In contrast, fonts described as “youthful” and “casual” fonts — like Comic Sans — were considered “happy” and “casual.”
Most important in anyone’s font decision is certainty that the company name is legible and readable. You’d be surprised how many logos we’ve seen that are unreadable. And, really, how can you remember a business if you don’t know the name of that business?
The psychology of shapes in logo design
All logos — whether they include an icon and text, an icon only, or even just text — have a shape. The three major categories — geometric, abstract and organic — all come prepackaged with their own psychological associations.
Geometric shapes look man-made. Mathematically precise squares, perfect circles and Isosceles triangles don’t tend to appear in nature. So, using these shapes communicates a sense of order and power. The various types:
Squares and rectangles convey stability, reliability, strength, order and predictability. Think of the bricks used to build sturdy, stable buildings. If you want your logo to communicate strength and reliability, consider incorporating squares or rectangles.
Circles are never-ending. So, they may be the right choice if you want to make consumers think of harmony, unity, eternity or timelessness. Curves are also considered feminine; and, as such, circles communicate softness, gentility and femininity.
Triangles are a directional shape. As a result, they change meaning depending on how they are positioned. When right side up, triangles convey power, stability and upward momentum. Inverted triangles suggest instability or downward momentum. And, triangles pointing to the side convey movement and direction based on where the triangle’s point is facing.
Abstract or symbolic shapes
Symbols are simplified shapes that represent something specific in a culture. And, because symbols have clear, common meanings, they are relied upon heavily as a visual language.
Stars can convey patriotism or religion or even “show business” and “Hollywood ” depending on how they are used.
Hearts can be used to communicate love, relationships and marriage, while broken hearts represent break-ups, divorce and sadness.
Arrows, meanwhile, suggest a direction, movement and travel. These are commonly used in businesses that ship and deliver goods. FedEx and Amazon are examples of logos that use these symbols well. The arrow in the FedEx logo is subtle and created from negative space — an unexpected surprise. Amazon’s logo features an arrow that serves triple duty signifying a package being delivered, the company’s range of products (from “A” to “Z”) and the recipient’s resulting smile.
Organic shapes include the shapes of organic items occurring in nature (rocks, leaves, tree bark, amoebas, water ripples, etc.). This category also encompasses any irregular non-symbolic shape, even if it’s not inspired by nature. When utilizing organic shapes, keep these guidelines in mind:
Natural shapes like leaves, grasses, representations of water, and trees tend to have a soothing effect on the viewer. This is why they often appear in logos for spas and holistic medical businesses.
Shapes with jagged angles may create feelings of anxiety, while shapes with soft curves make them feel more relaxed.
Shapes that don’t resemble anything recognizable are open to the viewer’s interpretation. This means that you will need to work harder to communicate a specific message through other design elements and branding choices.
The psychology of lines
Lines divide space. They create definition and form. They communicate direction. Lines tell us where to stand and where to drive. But, beyond their practical function, they can also communicate a great deal aesthetically. In fact, geometric line art logos are popular in logo design trends this year.
Thin lines, in particular, are delicate and may appear fragile. They communicate elegance and femininity. They can also imply frailty, weakness or flexibility. Alternately, thick lines suggest strength and rigidity. They appear more traditionally masculine than thin lines. Thick, bold lines are used to draw focus and create emphasis where they appear.
Straight lines imply order, structure and predictability. They may also be perceived as rigid or harsh. Curved lines, on the other hand, offer more energy and dynamism.
Then there’s positioning: The position of your line in space impacts the psychological effect that the line creates.
Horizontal lines run parallel to the horizon. As a result, they contain the least visual energy of all line positions. They feel comfortable and safe.
Vertical lines run perpendicular to the horizon. They appear to rise straight up from the earth, filling them with the potential visual energy to tip or fall. Vertical lines draw the eye upward. And, as such, they are often used in religious iconography to draw focus upward to the heavens.
Diagonal lines suggest movement and action. Diagonal lines can be positioned anywhere between horizontal and vertical. This makes them very expressive and the least stable of all the line positions.
Smooth lines are clean, calming and restful. Depending on their context, they can convey confidence, fluidity or ease.
Jagged and zig-zagging lines are filled with tension. These dynamic lines change direction quickly, communicate erratic movement, and irregularity. They can suggest excitement or anxiety, confusion or danger.
The psychology of colors
Color contributes the strongest emotional trigger in your logo design repertoire because colors are strongly linked to emotions in the human psyche. Whether our interpretation of colors is hardwired into our brains or is due to cultural influence — or a combination of the two — there is a generally accepted language of color.
It’s also important to bear in mind that how you mix your colors in a single design also has psychological implications for your viewers. For instance:
- A multitude of bright colors appears youthful, childlike, or full of energy.
- Black and white is a classically elegant combination that implies maturity and sophistication.
- Monochromatic schemes allow you to embrace more vibrant colors while maintaining a softer, more unified feel.
- Combining neutrals with an accent color allows you to take advantage of the emotional influence of a strong, bright color without the childlike implications.
Choose your colors wisely to elicit appropriate brand-appropriate emotions. Your color choices should always embody the personality of the brand.
The psychology of composition
Fonts, shapes, lines, and colors are the building blocks for a great logo design. But don’t forget that how you compose those elements also impacts how the logo is perceived and the message it sends. Here are some important considerations to think through when you choose a logo design:
Size denotes importance. The larger an object is the more focus it draws and the more important it seems.
Western audiences read from left to right. So, things appearing on the left side of the logo will be viewed first and perceived as the most important.
Loosely spaced items surrounded by negative space look more restful than items that are closely spaced. If you choose to emphasize negative space, be careful not to leave too much or the logo may lack coherence.
Scattered or irregular placement suggests playfulness, chaos or rebellion, while orderly, symmetrical arrangements communicate formality, stability, and conformity.
Layering items together creates visual relationships, so be mindful of how you combine shapes and lines.
Overall, every detail of your company’s logo will influence people who see that logo. You can communicate a lot — and do it efficiently and effectively — if you understand your brand and make informed, thoughtful choices regarding fonts, colors, shapes, lines and composition.