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Graphic Design Psychology: Eight Principles To Follow

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Can your design give an “ouch!” moments to customers? Yes, bad design hurts! From uninspiring product packaging to monotonous ads, there’s nothing that sets it apart. Design is the bloodline of your business. You can’t separate product sales and profit generated from marketing collaterals. But, if you think creating designs is enough to build healthy customer relationships, pause for a bit. The final output is not everything. Magic is the details. Tiniest fault in the design layout can alter the message. Once the design was full of crammed content. Now, you have other elements to make it legit. The design has changed the way you thought about it. You’ve moved on to lines, images, and colors to induce action. Do you still fail at connecting with people? Check out these Graphic Design Psychology!

graphic design psychology

Probably, you missed the graphic design psychology. It helps you to capture potential customers. By understanding their reactions, you know their preferences. Analyzing their behavior helps you optimize your design.

In graphic design, it’s all about individual elements. You can’t overlook one over the other. Since, each element has a meaning, the choices you make play a great role. Different elements have different weights. A well-planned design is where you give equal importance to these elements. The elements in cohesive form spread a single message – your brand story.

Let’s deconstruct each element of design bit by bit.

1. Hold on to mental models

In this model, you study the thought process of customers’ minds. Customers interact with their surroundings and come across bittersweet experiences. Using this model, you map out how things work for customers in the real world. It shows customers’ relationships with their surroundings, their perception, and how they respond to it. In short, it’s centered around user experience. When you’re processing the thoughts, ask yourself:

  • How are you placing the elements?
  • Is it easy to understand?
  • Will it guide the viewer?

2. The Von Restorff Effect

Have you seen the odd one out in any series? You can easily spot it because it’s distinct. German psychiatrist Hedwig von Restorff came up with an interesting theory. It states that if an element is different from the rest, it’s more likely to be remembered. Von Restorff Effect/isolation effect also explains the distinctive features. Features such as size, color, shape, etc. help viewers perceive differently. It’s easy to make your product stand out on the shelf. In web design, the choice of color makes a difference. Suppose you want to bring viewers to CTA, color the buttons blue. It evokes the emotion of trustworthiness and loyalty. Customers’ eyes naturally go there as it pops out.

graphic design psychology

3. Gestalt Psychology

In the 1920s, German psychologists developed ‘Gestalt principles.’ It’s about people’s perception of the world. With this principle, you can see the visual perception of unified elements. Your brain is wired to see sensible things. Once you know what works best, you can easily club elements together. Uncover the seven principles with examples:

  • Figure-ground: People either see what’s in the background or foreground. The object stands out or leans into the back. The principle helps you to focus on the subject matter. You can also ignore the unwanted elements while composing. For example, if your design has a bunch of elements in a white background, it’s easy to focus on the content.
  • Similarity: When elements are together, you can group it based on appearance and functions. It creates uniformity and organizes the layout. For example, GitHub website uses the similarity principle. You can see the difference in each section. The grey area on the top serves a common purpose. They also use the blue color to distinguish links from regular text leading to action.
  • Proximity: Things close to each other are more relatable than distant things. Proximity overrides other Gestalt principles. For inspiration, see the element placement on Amazon. The closeness of the product and the corresponding product name increases relativity.
  • Common region/fate: Common region is connected with proximity. When elements are grouped closely together, it’s easier to get confused. Adding a border makes distinction clearer. Pinterest is the best example of a common region. You can pin related images in one board.
  • Continuity: The elements arranged in a specific order (curve or line) are more relatable than elements not in order. For example, in social media, it’s easy to follow carousels. Also, Amazon uses continuity to showcase related products. Using this principle, you can strengthen the perception.
  • Closure: When elements are in complex form, viewers look for similar elements to recognize. Even if the image is in pieces, your brain pictures it fully. For instance, you can see the closure principles in IBM’s logo.
  • Focal point: It’s obvious that what stands out catches attention first. Because it’s at the center of focus, it will never go unnoticed. You can use the focal point principle for call-to-action. You create emphasis points within the composition to hold attention. Communication platform Twilio uses focal point principles to draw attention.

Use these principles to design satisfying graphics. Create with the least amount of details to create a necessary impact.

4. Visceral Reactions

Have you ever loved a visual without any reason? You probably had a visceral reaction. It’s an automatic, gut-deep response to an experience. Your designs can lead to visceral reactions if it has a positive impression. To see much response who has to look for what people like. If something is turning them down, chuck it out.

Airbnb uses visceral designs. You can see the aesthetic of travel. Their designs excite the audience and compel them to explore more. Designing for a visceral reaction isn’t rocket science. It would be best if you had mesmerizing photographs to arrest all attention.

5. Color Psychology

Color is the emotional cue in the pool of marketing content. It shapes audience perception. From an audience standpoint, when the emotions are evoked, your product is close to a transaction. The power of colors in convincing people is above and beyond. Colors are the epitome of emotions. Playing with color is the same as playing with fire. You have to decode your color palette before you get started. While it may sound difficult, it’s certainly not impossible. By understanding color psychology, you can boost your sales conversion.

Color psychology studies human behavior w.r.t. colors. You can see the effect of color on customers’ decisions. Their decision making affects your color choice. You can also have a look at color theory psychology.

Color is a building block of your brand’s story. Your color palette reflects your brand image. It’s the first thing they notice when they see your brand. So, it’s important to see if the brand color is consistent throughout.

While color perception is subjective, it triggers emotions, flashbacks memories, and causes the sensation to everyone. The differential factors are one’s upbringing, gender, place, values, personal experiences, and other factors. Meaning: No two individuals will react in the same way.

6. Shape Psychology

Understanding why you need shapes helps you create knockout designs. Each shape has its meaning, and it prompts different responses. For instance, a person’s character can be analyzed using shapes. Simply put, you can read your viewers’ minds. Skim through the common meaning of shapes:

  • Square and rectangle: Discipline, strength, courage, security, and reliability.
  • Triangle: Excitement, danger, risk, balance, and stability.
  • Circle, oval, and ellipses: Eternity, female, universe, magic, and mystery.
  • Spirals: Growth, creativity, calmness, and intelligence.
  • Natural shapes: Originality, balance, refreshment, and organic.
  • Abstract shapes: Dual meaning, uniqueness, and elaborate.

Psychology of shape helps in creating a logo, icons, typography, layout, etc.

7. Dual-coding theory

Dual-coding assumes that the brain processes in two ways, i.e. verbal communication and visual representation. The theory reflects how powerful your message can be when you combine visual and verbal together. Brands use the theory in video making to spread their message. You can keep your brand message memorable.

A brain visualizes the image behind the word. If the brain sees a visual image, it will connect it to the word behind it. In this process of pairing, it enhances the memory of the viewer. People exposed to dual codes have a sharper memory than single-coded messages. Multimedia messages make use of this theory. When your customer receives information in isolation, it’s perceived differently. The theory also states that if there’s no link between the codes, customers can’t associate.

8. Cost-benefit analysis

Every design-related decision is considered a cost-benefit analysis. You have to see if the cost of designing is worth the benefits. If the costs outweigh the benefits, it’s of no use.

Don’t take minimalism literally. Simple designs can also do more. You can still fulfil the ultimate goal of the content – spread your story. As a designer, always keep the financial return in the pipeline.

If you’re churning out designs every day, think of how you sound like a human with your designs. Use psychology to get over your “ouch!” moments with outstanding designs idea!


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