The Psychology of Logo Design
Feb 25, 2016
Apple’s renowned monochrome logo wasn’t always colorless.
For twenty years, from 1976 to 1998, Apple was identified by a rainbow-hued bitten apple that lent a youthful appeal to its’ products. Unfortunately, not only was producing this logo expensive, it was also hard to replicate across multiple devices.
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, his primary goal was to “transform its’ image from that of a failing company” into a hallmark of elegance, simplicity and creativity.
Mr. Jobs kicked off his rebranding strategy by modifying the logo to represent Apple’s values, target audience, and vision.
Out went the rainbow and in walked in a more sophisticated, single-color symbol.
Although tweaking the logo wasn’t the only reason for Apple’s resurgence, this strategic modification played an important role in its resurrection.
Users all across the world wait in long lines just to own mobile devices and Macs branded with that influential symbol.
That’s the significance of a logo.
You Had Me at “Logo”
A logo is a visual representation of a brand – that crucial first impression. It acts as the topmost level of competitive differentiation, covertly or overtly conveying why customers should pick you.
There are multiple logo types, including literal (e.g., YouTube), symbolic (e.g. Apple), or abstract (e.g. Nike). The most pertinent and persuasive logos tell a brand’s story, enhance brand recognition, communicate brand quality, and augment brand image. They are scalable, flexible, enduring, memorable, and unique.
“A powerful logo might look simple, but there is nothing simple about creating effective logo shapes,” writes Martin Christie, a renowned photographer and creative director at Alchemist, a UK-based logo design agency.
Unfortunately, small businesses underestimate the importance of logos. So they either pull something together at the last minute, or outsource them to inexpensive designers who don’t care about their company.
If you want an applicable, artistic, and appealing logo that communicates your USP (unique service proposition), represents your mission, and articulates your personality, you need to place it at the front and center of your branding and marketing endeavors.
Psychology of Logo Design:
Psychology is – to put simply – the study of human behavior and mental processes.
So what does psychology have to do with logos? Turns out, everything.
Consumers humanize brands by assigning human characteristics and emotions to them. Much like we make snap judgments about people we meet based on their physical characteristics, consumers make snap judgments about brands based on their physical traits.
A logo is the cornerstone of a brand’s ‘tangible form’ – it grabs your attention and demands a response instantly. How your target audience associates or connects with this symbol heavily impacts how they will catalog – and interact with – the brand.
“From a psychoanalytical perspective, creating brands is linked to understanding how humans communicate and express feelings through symbols,” writes Sebastian Guerrini, a cross-cultural branding specialist, Graphic Designer and Image Consultant.
To design a logo that influences purchase intent, start by gaining a deeper insight into your customers’ reactions and responses to its’ various attributes.
This is easier said than done, however, because brand perception depends on personal experiences, preferences, motivations, attitudes and socio-economic stimuli.
You cannot control – or prevent – anyone from assigning their own meanings, messages, and feelings to your logo.
But you can study the diverse psychological derivations of each logo element, reflect upon possible customer interpretations, and utilize your intuition and knowledge to make the most effective choice.
The following sections will address the three major components of a logo – colors, shapes, and fonts – to help you gain a deeper insight into their many undertones.
General Guidelines for All Logo Elements:
- Do not treat the logo elements as mutually exclusive from each other. According to the Gestalt psychology, the whole is greater than the parts. Our brain has the capability of generating “whole forms with respect to visual recognition”, instead of just looking at each unrelated element separately.
- Choose complementing logo elements to avoid conflicting messages
- Always keep your product, purpose, personality, target audience, competition and unique service proposition in mind while designing logos.
- Learn the ‘rules’ of logo design before breaking them. Familiar choices can breed trust.
- No logo is set in stone. It should FLOW with your vision, values, and goals change.
- Limit colors, shapes and fonts to 1 (or maybe 2, for colors and shapes).
- Every color, shape and font has both positive and negative connotations – take both into consideration before making your final selections.
- The connotations described in the following sections are just starting points – feel free to mix and match the elements. Pair the classic with the novel; the bold with the feminine; the sturdy with the graceful.
Colors: The Predominant Visual Cue
You may not be able to immediately recall the image on the Starbucks logo, but you know its’ principal color is green.
Colors are the most striking components of a logo. They boost familiarity, enhance likability, and communicate your brand persona. 80% of customers believe color increases brand recognition, while 85% cite color as the primary reason for purchase.
But it is too easy to fall prey to the simplistic color stereotypes and make non-contextual selections that don’t represent your distinctive brand.
“Color is too dependent on personal experiences to be universally translated to specific feelings,” writes Gregory Ciotti, a marketing strategist and Entrepreneur contributor.
For instance, research conducted by Joe Hallock, a Senior Design Manager at Microsoft, indicates that purple is a woman’s most favorite color and a man’s least favorite color. Many Asian cultures link white with death, while white symbolizes birth in the U.S., and so on.
Subtle variations in hue can also infuse us with separate feelings and longings. Dark blue, for instance, conjures professional firms, while turquoise blue can transport you to warm sands and glittering beaches. Each shade means something different, says something different, and stands for something different.
Following are some popular color associations:
- Purple: noble, abundant, creative
- Brown: wholesome, reliable, experienced
- Yellow: happy, warm, expansive
- Green: calm, balanced, rejuvenating
- Red: passionate, exciting, adventurous
- Pink: feminine, childlike, fun
- Blue: confident, trustworthy, peaceful
- Orange: vibrant, innovative, urgent
- Black: powerful, elegant, modern
Shapes: Those Curves Can Speak
What is the first thing that stands out about Nike’s logo? The elegant swoosh that symbolizes motion, victory, and continuity.
“From a psychological perspective, there’s nothing more relevant than shape,” writes Ray Vellest, a London based logo design specialist and branding strategist.
Our brains are drawn towards making sense of and memorizing shapes. A distinctive shape is often more effective – and unforgettable – than an assortment of colors or fonts.
A list of the most popular denotations assigned to the most common shapes:
- Oval: sturdiness, stability, endurance
- Ellipses: support, sentimentality, innovation
- Rings: partnership, unity, togetherness
- Curves: comfort, compassion, consideration
- Horizontal Line: tranquility, composure, trust
- Vertical Line: strength, efficiency, professionalism
- Diagonal Line: dynamism, liveliness, vibrancy
- Square and Rectangle: solidity, reliability, practicality
- Triangle: power, devotion, vitality
Fonts: A Language of Letters
(Note: For the purposes of this discussion, typefaces and fonts are used interchangeably.)
There is a reason LinkedIn does not use a script font in its logo – it emits the wrong vibe for a serious social media network that thrives on connecting professionals across the world.
“Selecting the right typeface is a mixture of firm rules and loose intuition, and takes years of experience to develop a feeling for,” writes Dan Mayer, a visual designer and writer, for Smashing Magazine
Each font speaks a distinct language and carries a definite emotional undercurrent. It is up to you – as a small business owner – to choose the ones that best reflect your message, mission, and mien.
Some widely acknowledged font correlations:
- Serif: traditional, respectable, stable
- Sans Serif: simple, straightforward, sensible
- Script: personal, feminine, fancy
- Display: friendly, quirky, conventional
- Slab: sturdy, bold, fine
- Modern: progressive, trendy, smart
- Decorative: fun, unique, casual
Don’t treat your logo design as a mindless afterthought.
Evoke definite sensations, endorse precise messages, and enhance brand familiarity by thoughtfully selecting the various logo attributes.
Proclaim your brand to the world with a simple yet alluring combination of colors, images, fonts, and shapes.