Every business can benefit from a recognizable brand to help set it apart from the competition. A very important part of that brand is a well-designed logo.
A good logo is simple and conveys meaning at a glance. The most effective logos elicit an emotional response in the viewer which helps to imprint the design in the brain to facilitate comprehension and transfer (the capacity to apply acquired knowledge to new situations). Although a negative emotional response is just as memorable, the goal, of course, is to create a highly positive response that brings about feelings of confidence, safety, and even anticipation and excitement!
If you already have a logo, the most important question to ask is what is that logo communicating? And remember that the first few seconds of viewing are the most important. The eye takes in shape, color, and complex interactions – more details than we even realize .
Our brains are made to categorize, recognize, and remember shapes, making choices about shape a top priority in logo design.
Studies since the 1940’s have shown that people consistently assign emotions to static shapes in various orientations. A shape that is leaning to one side is typically considered to be “unstable” and is often associated with anger, bossiness, submission, suffering or fear . These responses occur in representational images as well as abstract ones. So balance of shapes in the overall design is very important.
The overall shape is as important as the individual shape components. First, let’s take a quick look at how we react to components like curves, circles, lines, squares, and triangles.
The emotional response from a curve tends to be optimistic, soothing and tender. Curves are associated with good relationships, safety empathy and care. Think of a smile, but beware of a frown.
Spirals represent creativity and change .
The emotional response of a circle is unity, steadiness, and longevity.
Circles have no beginning or end, represent free, rolling movement, protect and restrict. The can be good attention-getters since they are not as commonly implemented in design .
In general round shapes with warm colors inspire positive emotions. A study also found that round shapes with facial type features (like emoticons) were very successful in stimulating knowledge transfer, especially when combined with neutral colors .
The orientation of the lines makes a big difference:
- Vertical lines suggest stability, strength, poise and balance but can also be perceived as forceful and unsympathetic.
- Horizontal lines convey composure and trust.
- Diagonal lines represent movement and speed and lead the eye in a direction. But they can also be viewed as unstable and submissive when combined in different ways. When slanted upward there is a sense of positive energy and expectation. However when slanted downward, the effect is less energetic.
Thicker lines communicate more stability than thinner lines. Thin lines are more subtle and often viewed as more sophisticated, gentle or delicate.
Squares and Rectangles
Squares and rectangles suggest solidity, stability and reliability but need to be combined with appropriate colors and other design elements or they become unexciting.
The represent order, formality and equality. When shifted to an angle, they can add unexpected interest .
Triangles are composed of diagonal lines, which are perceived to be dynamic but often unstable. Stability depends on the rotation and angle of the lines. When sitting on its base, a triangle suggests power. If twisted, it can suggest movement .
Triangles are often used for masculine target markets.
Fonts are composed of a combination of line styles and shapes. Jagged, angular fonts follow the same rules as diagonal lines where cursive fonts are friendly and more often appeal to females. Bold, linear lettering more often appeals to males.
Become aware of the negative spaces – the shapes made by the areas in and around the subject of an image.
The shapes created by the intersection of design elements are just as important as the intentional shapes. Negative spaces can lead to incorrect messages and emotional responses. They can also be distracting.
A classic example is the FedEx logo. The intersection of the “E” and “x” characters create an arrow, which implies movement and speed. However, when placed on the left side of a carrier vehicle, the arrow is pointing to the rear of the vehicle, indicating backward direction.
Turn your logo sideways, upside down, etc. and train your brain to look for the unintentional spaces .
Position of Elements
Logos are often framed in some type of shape. It is often tempting to center the contents of the frame, but this can be uninteresting and make the objects within seem to float independently of each other. Placing the subject off center can activate the space to make it come alive. Objects with seem to be grouped and unified.
Depending on your logo design, the Rule of Thirds may apply. This is a fundamental composition guideline that states that places the focal image off to one side or above or below center , Helping to keep the subject dynamic and engage the viewer.
Color communicates meaning both through learned associations and symbolism. It is important to consider the target audience and how they associate colors based on their cultural, political, historical, religious and linguistic backgrounds.
Research has reinforced that 60% of the time people will decide if they are attracted or not to a message – based on color alone! And color increases brand recognition by up to 80 percent .
Slight variations in color, tone, saturation and balance make a difference. Pastels can imply calmness and goodness but are also dated and associated with babies and elderly people. Saturated colors can be dynamic and confident but also aggressive.
It’s best to stick to 1 or 2 colors and make sure that the logo can be converted to black and white and still be effective.
Emotional messages conveyed through color include:
- Black – Mystery, sophistication, death, villainy
- White – Hope, simplicity, cleanliness, goodness, purity, cleanliness
- Red – Love, passion, romance, danger, energy, aggression (Learn more)
- Yellow – Intellect, sun, friendliness, warmth, caution, cowardice (Learn more)
- Blue – Peace, sincerity, confidence, integrity, tranquility (Learn more)
- Gray – Authority, maturity, security, stability
- Green – Life, growth, nature, money, freshness (Learn more)
- Orange – Innovation, creativity, ideas, modernism, approachability, fun, affordability (Learn more)
- Purple – Royalty, luxury, wisdom, dignity (Learn more)
- Brown – The outdoors, rural, organic, maturity, masculinity
- Pink – Love, femininity, fun, playfulness (Learn more)
Gender and Age
Studies show that the sexes display different preferences if not different responses to colors. Even memory recall of color names and recognition of individual colors is different between men and women [8, 11]. Favorite colors also differ by age group.
Some interesting findings indicate that :
- Blue is the most popular color for both men and women.
- The most unpopular color for men is brown.
- The most unpopular color for women is orange.
One study determined color preferences by the sexes as depicted in the figures below .
Interactions and Combinations
Just as blends of shapes are important, combinations involving shapes and color have significant meanings. For example, studies show that round shapes combined with warm colors induce positive emotions and enhance comprehension .
Some helpful tips are to :
- Consider the flow of the design and keep background shapes simple and large.
- Limit the number and size of shapes to only what is necessary to communicate your message.
- Overlap shapes and provide depth through size and color density.
Combinations of elements can tame undesirable aspects of individual elements and lead to the overall desired emotional effect. Be sure to consider the whole of the image and how the parts impact it.
Be aware of the predominant shapes and colors, including the negative spaces. The shapes and colors that stand out in the design are the ones that will elicit the emotional response.
Meanings of shape and color vary across the world so know your target audience. All tips in this article apply to Western cultures.
Results of studies on cultural preferences for colors are reveled the following figure .
Great! Now what?
There is a lot to consider when designing a logo that will succeed in the market. Just break it down to the basics:
- First, you have to know your target market.
- Next, you need to understand how the shapes and colors are perceived and what emotions are created through them.
- Finally, you have to practice. Try different techniques and combinations and see what people think.
In general, designs consisting of shapes and colors that stimulate positive emotions result in higher comprehension and transfer. Also they found that more mental effort was invested in processing the content resulting in higher levels of motivation and satisfaction. And, just as concrete words are easier to recall than abstract words, the same is true for images.
These tips should help you on your way to a solid, effective, and prosperous logo for your brand.
References and Further Study