Psychology in Design: Principles Every Graphic Designer Should Know

Psychology in Design: Principles Every Graphic Designer Should Know

Today’s topic is psychology in design. So let’s dive in.

What we see and what we feel are two very different things. The first is an aesthetic experience, the latter is a psychological one. Good graphic design includes both.

Psychology is everywhere in design. It’s because of psychology that we understand that red is a choice color for restaurant logos. (For those who don’t know – it stimulates appetite.) Or, that calls-to-action above the fold tend to convert better.

Now, you may think that you need to get a degree in psychology to create an impressionable design. The good news is that it’s not true. Take this as a handy crash course on the role of psychology in design.

Color Psychology in Design 


Color psychology is probably the first concept that comes to mind for most designers when thinking of how psychology plays a role in design. It goes without saying that color selection and usage are vital skills in all fields of design. 

It is an extensive and interesting field that is well worth studying. That is if you want to learn how to design better brands, websites, and graphics that help your clients reach their goals.

Adobe lists colors and their corresponding emotions, the positive ones as follows:

  • Red: strength, passion, and confidence
  • Orange: happy, playful, fun, attention-grabbing
  • Yellow: optimism, happiness, a siren for alerts and bold, informational messages
  • Green: balance, sustainability growth
  • Blue:  calmness, peace, trust, safety
  • Purple: loyalty, trust, spiritual awareness
  • Pink: passion, love, youth
  • White: cleanliness, sophistication, virtue
  • Brown: organic, wholesome feel
  • Grey: a true neutral, best serves as a quiet background 
  • Black: sophistication and power

Just a little reminder: Different cultures ascribe different meanings to colors. The emotions people associate with color can change depending on their cultural or religious backgrounds. The above list refers to Western Culture perceptions.

Shape Psychology in Design 


For many years many experts have studied how different shapes can affect people’s behavior. They were working on identifying their personalities as every shape has its own meaning and influence on the viewer’s mind. And the thing is, this doesn’t happen by coincidence. It has a name! The psychology of shapes. 

Let’s skim through the common meaning of shapes:

Square and rectangle: Discipline, strength, courage, security, and reliability

We see them numerous times a day. The majority of the common things that we use every day, like our smartphones, books, and monitors. All of these are square or rectangular in shape. The straight lines and 90° angles of these two shapes offer a sense of reliability and security. People strongly associate squares and rectangles with buildings, as they bring a sense of trust and authority.

Triangle: Excitement, danger, risk, balance, and stability

This one is commonly defined as an energetic and dynamic shape. Depending on the position of the triangle it can have different meanings. For example, if the triangle is upright and pointing up it represents stability and balance. But, if the position of the triangle is reversed the meaning is different. It transmits risky feelings and instability.

Circle, oval, and ellipses: Eternity, female, universe, magic, and mystery

These are one of the most popular shapes for designers. It is because they are very noticeable and powerful graphic elements. Also, because they represent wholeness and completion and these attributes made them very useful shapes in any design project.

Spirals: Growth, creativity, calmness, and intelligence

Spiral shapes are very common in real life. They remind us of natural elements such as shells and flowers. In graphic design, they are used to represent the circle of life and growth.

Natural shapes: Originality, balance, refreshment, and organic

Everything created by mother nature has a unique shape. Leaves, flowers, animals, trees, etc. become the source of inspiration for artists and designers. Natural shapes have an apparent meaning for plants and animals which they symbolize. There’s a feeling of refreshment and unity attached to the natural shapes. In addition, different animals and plants have their own personalities and features. A rose is a flower associated with love and passion, while a lion is a symbol of pride and bravery.

Abstract shapes: Dual meaning, uniqueness, and elaborate

The simplified versions of natural shapes and complex ideas are abstract shapes. As abstract shapes are generally stylized, they are difficult to recognize. Only small details give a hint to what it is. They mostly have more than one meaning. The first one is direct and the second is the figurative one. Designers use abstract shapes to design logos and icons. These shapes quickly and powerfully convey the message, without text.

The Surprising Psychology of Fonts 


We see millions of fonts every single day. From the news we read to the adverts we pass on the way to work. The successful ones will stick with us, while those that miss the mark mean something isn’t doing the job it needs to.

But what makes a good, successful font? The answer comes in the form of font psychology. It means there’s a connected emotional and visual reaction to whichever font you may choose to represent yourself. In essence, font psychology is the visual and emotional reaction you have to the font you’re seeing.

Behind font psychology lies the power to drive your decisions and goals.

Fonts that provoke a psychological reaction can be used to make a brand feel more trustworthy! Also, friendly, or aspirational, with designers often turning to emotional fonts to give brand identities a powerful psychological impact.

Behind font psychology lies the power to drive your decisions and goals. Opening yourself up to understanding how people react to fonts means you have influence over how your design and business are perceived by who you’d like to target.

Final Thoughts 

One of the best things you can do as a designer is to study human psychology and perception.

Understanding how viewers perceive and interpret visuals will give you more control over the impact of your visuals. And, it will help you to communicate more effectively in your designs.

These principles in graphic design psychology, however, shouldn’t be taken as hard and fast rules. Instead, they should be used as tools and guidelines to help you create visuals that are clearer. Visuals that are more engaging, and that convert more effectively than would otherwise be possible.


Biljana Martinić

Captain of Red Hair Pirates. Song Sommelier. Dragonologist. Talks to animals and they often talk back. Shyness that is criminally vulgar. Bounty hunter. And a nostalgia consultant.

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