A company’s logo is the visual figurehead of that company’s brand identity. It’s important to get it right.
Whether every detail of a logo is intentional or not, every detail will influence people who see that logo.
Nothing should be arbitrary.
It’s in your best interest to make sure that every logo design choice is intentional and communicates the message you want to convey.
Thoughtless design choices lead to misleading or confusing logos. Or, even worse, logos that don’t say anything at all.
Let’s take a deeper look at the psychology of logo design and how fonts, shapes, lines, colors, and composition can affect how a logo can influence purchasing decisions.
The Psychology of Fonts in Logo Design
When using fonts for your business, choose a font with the right “personality.” As we wrote,
Typography is an effective way to convey more than just the words involved in written communication. It showcases personality by visually representing the tenor and tone of what it is you’re talking about. You may find that your purpose is best met by using a font with a vibrant personality throughout your website or using an amalgamation of sans and serif typefaces.
Some people are familiar with Serif and Sans Serif fonts (you’ve seen them even if you don’t know how to tell them apart). They were designed to make it easier for people to read words and that makes most Serif and Sans Serif fonts a good fit for many different kinds of businesses.
How do you know which font style will work best for your business?
Are you better off with something conventional, like Arial or Helvetica? Maybe you’ll find a stronger fit with an offbeat choice like Kirsten or Papyrus (Papyrus!)
It’s clear that whatever your font choice, it should align with your customers’ expectations when they encounter your brand.
The Software Usability Research Laboratory (SURL) at Wichita State University ran a study that examined the traits people associate with varying fonts.
Traditional fonts including Arial or Times New Roman were categorized as “stable” and “mature”, but were also considered “unimaginative” and “conformist.”
In contrast, “youthful” and “casual” fonts like Comic Sans were also considered “happy” and “casual.”
Fonts for a business logo, for example, should work to be traditional and clean. You need to be sure anything with your font on it – letters, emails, business cards – reinforces the message that you’re a trustworthy, credible business.
A more casual coffee shop, on the other hand, should avoid overly rigid, hyper-clean fonts. A cafe’s atmosphere is typically relaxed and comfortable, and your font choice should reflect that.
Most important, be sure that the company’s name is legible and readable. You’d be surprised how many logos we’ve seen that are unreadable.
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, only an icon, or even just text – have a shape.
And, it’s important to consider what that shape communicates about your brand.
Shapes fall into 3 major categories – geometric, abstract/symbolic and organic. And, they all come prepackaged with their own psychological associations.
Geometric shapes of all kinds 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.
Squares and rectangles convey stability, reliability, strength, order, and predictability. Think of the bricks that are used to build sturdy, stable buildings. If you want your logo to communicate strength and reliability, considering incorporating squares or rectangles.
This is precisely what IBM did in creating its iconic logo. Their full company name, The International Business Machines Corporation, was shortened to IBM to create a more powerful, minimalist visual brand.
Circles are never-ending. So, they may be the right choice for your logo if you want to make your consumers think of harmony, unity, eternity, or timelessness. Curves are considered to be 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.
People have seen these images again and again, so it’s really important to be clever and original in how you use them. It’s easy for logos featuring symbols to appear trite and unoriginal.
Here are a few common examples of symbols:
Stars can convey patriotism, 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 suggest a direction, movement, and travel. These are commonly used in businesses that ship and deliver goods (FedEx and Amazon, anyone?)
Be very careful when using these, and other, common symbols in your logo. They may be an easy-to-understand visual shorthand, but they are also so commonly used that you run the risk of looking indistinct from your competition.
If your logo is too “on-the-nose” and unoriginal you may come across as unprofessional; which will undermine your potential customers’ faith and trust in your business.
FedEx and Amazon are examples of logos that use symbols well.
The arrow in the FedEx logo is subtle and created from negative space – it’s an unexpected surprise.
Amazon’s logo features an arrow that serves triple duty signifying a package being delivered, their range of products (from “A” to “Z”) and the recipient’s resulting smile.
Irregular, organic shapes are wide open to your creativity.
Organic shapes include the shapes of actual organic items occurring in nature (rocks, leaves, tree bark, amoeba, water ripples, etc.). This category also encompasses any irregular non-symbolic shape, even if it’s not inspired by nature.
Professor Sunday Moulton, PhD explains:
Organic shapes are defined by not being regulated by patterns or exact dimensions in their angles, curves, or lengths of lines. In fact, they are just like shapes we find in nature with all the randomness and freedom you might see in a rock formation, a tree branch, or a leaf chewed by an insect.
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 tend to appear in logos for spas and holistic medical businesses.
- Shapes with jagged angles may create feelings of anxiety for your viewers, while shapes with soft curves will 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.
When designing a logo, be mindful of what shapes will represent the brand best. Is the brand a reliable, precise square or a wacky organic inkblot?
The Psychology of Lines in Logo Design
Lines appear everywhere.
And we usually don’t give them much thought.
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.
ArtyFactory, a free online learning resource for visual artists, shares:
Line is the foundation of all drawing. It is the first and most versatile of the visual elements of art. Line in an artwork can be used in many different ways. It can be used to suggest shape, pattern, form, structure, growth, depth, distance, rhythm, movement and a range of emotions.
Geometric line art logos are currently popular and among the logo design trends this year.
Let’s look at how lines can have a psychological impact in a logo design.
Thin vs Thick Lines
Thin lines 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 vs Curved Lines
Straight lines imply order, structure, and predictability. They may also be perceived as rigid or harsh. Straight lines are the best option for underlining text to draw the viewer’s attention, while at the same time allowing the text to be the star.
Curved lines, on the other hand, offer more energy and dynamism. Curved lines are visibly flexible and can communicate agility and reactivity. If you’re looking to convey grace and fluidity, curved lines are a great choice.
The stronger the curve, the higher the energy the line will communicate. Softer curves are more calming to look at.
Horizontal vs Vertical vs Diagonal Lines
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.
Unlike vertical or diagonal lines, they look as though gravity has already acted upon them and there is nowhere for them to fall. This means that horizontal is the most restful and stable line position. They feel comfortable and safe.
Horizontal lines help to emphasize width, can be used to indicate the earth or ground, or to indicate lateral movement.
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, are often used in religious iconography to draw focus upward to the heavens.
Thicker vertical lines are perceived to have more stability (and be more calming) than thin vertical lines which look more fragile and unstable.
Verticality also can be used to convey dignity or upstanding trustworthiness.
Diagonal lines can be positioned anywhere between horizontal and vertical. This makes them very expressive and the least stable of all the line positions.
The higher the top of the line, the more distance the line can fall. This translates to more potential visual energy. You will elicit more tension in your viewer the higher the angle you create from the horizon.
Diagonal lines suggest movement and action. They are more casual and playful than vertical or horizontal lines because they resist being pigeonholed in either resting position.
Smooth vs Jagged vs Irregular Lines
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.
Irregular lines that are neither completely smooth nor jagged look hand-drawn and natural. They appear casual and can create emphasis and focus by placing additional weight in the places where you want to draw focus.
Irregular lines can convey playfulness, confidence, timidity or hesitation based on how they are drawn.
Lines are incredibly expressive tools with great potential for embodying emotion. You can combine most of the factors described above to create lines with great individuality.
When designing a logo, make sure to choose the style of line that best supports the brand the logo will represent.
The Psychology of Colors in Logo Design
Color contributes the strongest emotional trigger in your logo design repertoire.
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 both – there is a generally accepted language of color.
As we explained in a Small Business Branding: What Color Says About Your Business:
While our perception of colors and what they mean is subjective, there are some basic qualities that we can apply generally. Here are some of those qualities:
Red. Often considered exciting, attention-grabbing, warm, and connected to love, anger, life, and comfort.
Yellow. Seen as adventurous, evoking happiness, enthusiasm, youth, and travel.
Green. Of course, this color is connected to money, but it’s also known for its connection to balance, health, sustainability, and knowledge.
Blue. The color of honesty, high quality, competence, trust, reliability, and integrity.
Pink. This color evokes love, compassion, romance, gentleness, and sophistication.
Purple. Creativity, royalty, mystery, respect, and playfulness are often connected to purple (and violet).
Brown. Brown is the color of the outdoors and can be seen as friendly, organic, natural, friendly, and rugged.
Black. This color is all about sophistication, intelligence, seriousness, and expense.
White. The antithesis of black is known for its order, innocence, purity, cleanliness, neutrality, and space.
Grey. When you need to communicate timelessness, neutrality, refinement, of the moment, or practicality, you might want to use grey.
Culture and context can also influence how a color is interpreted. Therefore, do your due diligence and research your audience so you can make the best choices based on their specific backgrounds.
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 in Logo Design
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 composing 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.
The combinations of lines, colors, and shapes to create a logo are limited only by your imagination and creativity. For more on this, read The Business Owner’s Guide to Creating a Unique Logo.
Putting it Together
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, shapes, lines, colors, and composition.
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