At the heart of any powerful brand is a recognizable logo. Think of Apple, Nike or McDonald’s and without hesitation you can visualize a fruit, a swoosh or golden arches, respectively. Yet, these iconic logos didn’t make their mark overnight.
Gradually, these brands forged meaningful connections with their customers and within their industries. Through meticulous and thoughtful branding decisions—and strong logo designs—they successfully get our attention, trigger our emotions and ultimately encourage us to purchase their products time and again.
This article will outline the emotional and psychological implications that color, shape and font can have on logos. When creating a logo, understanding the psychology behind it will help you compose a more powerful and enduring design.
Why do we prefer certain brands to others?
Picture yourself at the grocery store, buying a few ingredients to make your favorite meal. You’ll grab specific products, put them in your cart and head to the cashier—but what made you choose the particular brands you’re purchasing?
You may not realize it, but there are psychological and emotional responses behind each of your purchasing decisions. While some may argue that price is simply the driving factor behind these choices, this is not always the case.
So, why do we favor some brands over others? Here are a few motivating factors:
According to Peter Noel Murray, Ph.D., emotions influence what we buy. Murray explains, “When evaluating brands, consumers primarily use emotions (personal feelings and experiences), rather than information (brand attributes, features, and facts).” Research reveals that, “Consumers perceive the same type of personality characteristics in brands as they do in other people.”
With this in mind, it’s evident that a brand’s identity must convey to prospective consumers exactly who they are, and what they represent. However, busy shoppers don’t always have time to read up on a brand, or research competitors—they often make a split decision based on instinct and emotion.
Now, take yourself back to the grocery store, and imagine they’ve run out of your go-to product, what do you do next? You’ll likely scan the shelves and pick a similar option. Will your decision be based on price? Or perhaps the visual identity of the products—like a logo? This is precisely why effective logo design plays such an important role in your branding efforts. It’s the mere seconds you have to get a prospective customer’s attention, and how you will capture it that matters.
The psychology of logo design
First, let’s examine the concept of psychology in relation to logo design and the impact that it has. The key to good logo design is more profound than simply choosing your favorite colors or symbols—it’s a deeply intricate process that requires research, awareness and precision.
Whether you’re working with a designer, or crafting your own using a logo maker, recognizing the meaning behind specific shapes and complementary colors and the power they have, will help you work with more intention.
What message do you want your logo to convey? How do you want people to feel when they see your logo? What associations do you hope others will make to your logo design? These are all imperative questions to consider when understanding how to design a logo.
Let’s take a look at a few concepts that can help guide your logo design process.
It only takes about 10 seconds for consumers to form an impression from a logo, however, it takes 5-7 brand impressions before someone will remember your product. Using strategic symbols can be advantageous to immediately convey a message.
Symbols are often a part of our collective consciousness. Whether they appear as specific shapes, images or written marks, they have universal meanings and associations. Keeping this in mind as you design your logo will help you communicate your brand message with more clarity.
Research from the Association for Consumer Research highlights, “Product differentiation refers to marketing activities which cause a consumer to differentiate one brand from another competing brand. This is achieved when the consumer (1.) perceives that the (objective) quality of a brand is different from that of competing ones or (2.) attaches emotional feelings with a brand which differentiates it from others.”
Using logos to distinguish your brand from competitors is precisely the second method, which strives to attach emotional value to a specific brand compared to others. By designing a unique logo that stands apart from your competitors, you can distinguish your brand and encourage emotional connections among consumers.
Priming is what happens when our brains create connections or associations to other memories. As Psychology Today puts it, it’s a “Phenomenon in which exposure to one stimulus influences how a person responds to a subsequent, related stimulus. These stimuli are often conceptually related words or images.”
With this in mind, effective logos can trigger memory, perceptual processing, and ultimately influence people’s decision-making to not only choose a brand once, but become loyal to it.
The gestalt theory is particularly important for designers, and plays an interesting role in logo psychology. In a nutshell, the gestalt theory states that the sum is greater than the individual parts. This notion, which was conceptualized by a group of German psychologists, Kurt Koffka, Max Wertheimer and Wolfgang Köhler, seeks to understand how visuals are perceived by humans.
Gestalt, which translates to “the unified whole,” can be broken down into 6 design principles:
Proximity: The overall layout of each element within your logo design and how close they are to each other can denote importance or belonging.
Similarity: The correlation between visual elements that share the same attributes. For example, two shapes, or even colors with similar characteristics are perceived as belonging to the same idea or group.
Closure: Using negative space to fill in the blanks and the ability to visualize the whole object even when parts are missing.
Continuity: The alignment of differing elements can create a perception of continuity or flow. This is particularly important in order to draw attention to a specific element of the logo.
Figure-ground: The relationship between a logo’s background and foreground and our ability to perceive them as a whole.
Symmetry: Not all logo designs need to be symmetrical, but this principle refers to the overall proportion and balance of a design.
If you achieve these design concepts in a visual layout of your logo design, the result will feel more coherent and composed. Look at logos like the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), Unilever or even the Olympic rings, you’ll see these principles at work.
Why logo psychology matters
Ultimately, the success of any logo relies not only on the visual design, but more significantly how people perceive it. In order for your logo to influence your consumer on a psychological or subconscious level, it must be relevant, meaningful and target the right audience.
Psychology of logo colors
When it comes to choosing your logo colors, there are many factors to consider. Specific hues can evoke particular emotions and convey unique sentiments. The colors you choose for your logo will serve to represent your brand, communicate your brand’s values and reinforce your brand identity.
Logo color psychology
Using color psychology, we can appreciate the influence that color has on human emotion and behavior. For example, red is associated with passion, courage and power. In some contexts and cultures, red can have negative connotations relating to danger or anger. Conversely, red is also known to trigger appetites and is frequently seen in fast food logos for this very reason.
By understanding the nuances and implications color can play on perception of your logo, and in turn, your brand, you can make better decisions about design.
Here is a quick overview of each color’s attributes:
Red: Passion, love, power and confidence
Orange: Trust, energy, playful and optimism
Yellow: Happiness, hopeful, cheerful and fun
Green: Peace, nature, harmony and renewal
Blue: Tranquility, calm, intelligence and trust
Purple: Royalty, wisdom, compassion and creativity
Pink: Optimistic, innovative, creative and childish/feminine
Black: Power, modern, sophistication and strong
Gray: Neutral, calm, wise and professional
Brown: Natural, stable, friendly and comfortable
Logo color combinations
While the individual shades you choose will impact your overall design, it’s also essential to understand the interplay between logo color combinations. Each color combination can have psychological implications on your overall logo design.
Here are a few things to consider:
Pay attention to color schemes such as monochromatic, analogous or complementary. By integrating color theory, you will select colors that are harmonious and trigger the intended emotion in relation to your brand.
Ideally, your logo design shouldn’t contain more than three colors. This is a general rule—and of course there are exceptions—but this is a good practice to follow.
If you are using a logo maker, you’ll have preset color schemes that can be customized with your own brand colors. In addition, you can find many color palette generator tools online to help create the most effective combinations.
Logo color tips
Consistency: Once you’ve selected your logo and brand colors, be sure to use them consistently throughout all your branding assets. This will ensure your branding collateral is recognizable and reliable.
Cultural awareness: Colors carry diverse meanings in different cultures. Always be sure to design with sensitivity and awareness to these differences. This is especially meaningful for global brands.
Competitors and industry research: Paying attention to your competitors is critical to understanding the market and what already exists. It also helps you better understand your target audience and how to effectively communicate with them based on your competitors.
Logo types: Depending on the type of logo you choose, color can impact your overall composition. For example, an emblem logo may have different color needs compared to a simple wordmark logo.
Psychology of logo shapes
Logos come in all shapes and sizes, and mastering the psychology behind diverse forms can make an impact not only on your logo design, but your brand identity as well. All logo shapes can be categorized into the following:
Geometric shapes: circles, triangles, squares, rectangles and lines
Organic shapes: natural, curved and spiral shapes
Abstract shapes: abstract and cultural shapes
Paying attention to the psychology of shapes, you can communicate more effectively, cultivate deeper brand recognition and foster customer loyalty. Ultimately, having the right logo shape can forge a stronger and more intentional brand identity. This will make it easier for customers to seek out your product, and build positive associations with your brand.
To illustrate, let’s examine the Twitter logo. The iconic blue symbol that we all know and love has gone through its own evolution since the brand’s inception in 2006. What originally started out as a green wordmark logo later evolved into a combination mark introducing Larry T. Bird, also known as the Twitter bird. Perhaps the most profound transformation was in 2012 when the bird icon got a fresh new look, and the brand name was removed altogether.
The simplified logo that continues to prevail today is merely the revised bird symbol. Designed by Martin Grasser, the shape is created by 15 circles overlaid onto each other. The subtle changes to the logo, including its shape and orientation, are impactful. For example, the bird faces slightly upward, symbolizing growth, hope and possibility. Furthermore, the geometric circles which define the bird’s shape represent the interconnectedness of networks and friends.
Psychology of logo fonts
There are many types of logos, some that consist of images and text, like combination marks, or others that are simply made up of words, such as letterforms and monograms. Regardless which logotype you use, it’s essential to select a font that is representative of your brand values, and instantly conveys your message.
Is your brand playful and lighthearted, or serious and sophisticated? Using strategic and thoughtful typography choices can help communicate these attributes. From bold, geometric typefaces, to soft, curved roundings—the letters you choose tell their own story. In addition, the spacing (also known as kerning) between characters provides clarity and context.
When understanding the psychological implications of your typeface design decisions, remember that font plays a vital role in perception. For example, serif fonts tend to be more traditional and are most commonly used in print such as books, newspapers and magazines thanks to its readability. Alternatively, script fonts are considered more elegant and creative as they emulate handwriting.
Consider the following when selecting your logo typography:
For a more detailed look at logo typography psychology, you can read up on the best fonts for logos.
Taking all of these psychological logo design ideas into consideration, you must also pay attention to the reciprocity between them. As you create your logo masterpiece, you may also want to explore the latest logo trends and logo design ideas.
Here are some helpful tips to remember when designing your logo:
Scalability: Always make sure that your logo design will look good at any size. Ensuring that you create a high-resolution vector image that can easily be adapted or adjusted means your logo will always look its best, regardless of the context.
Balance: If your logo contains symbols or icons, their size can affect the placement of other elements in your logo, like text. If a certain element is larger, this indicates importance and attracts focus. Paying attention to the overall composition and placement of each component will lead to a cohesive design.
Endurance: You want a logo that can evolve with your brand, rather than jumping on the bandwagon of the latest fads. Your logo is the heart of your brand identity and must have a sustainable design.
Universality: Just as colors and symbols can have contrasting meanings in different cultures, so can the layout of your logo design. For example, not all languages read left to right, and may view objects on the right or even the top of a logo as more important.
Form: Consider the use of negative space, background color, layering, alignment and readability in regard to your logo’s perception.