The Psychology of Pretty

By April 21, 2015blog

There is a common with misconception when it comes to the value and complexity of what designers do. On several occasions, when asked what I do for a living, I find myself replying, jokingly, that I “play with pretty colors all day”. The scary part is I’ve begun to think that some people actually believe that.

Whether it’s B2B marketing, B2C, building a brand, logo design, cross-selling, etc, we’re all appealing to the same audience: HUMANS. Being human means that we respond to certain messages, both consciously and subliminally, using a complex combination of our emotional, artistic side along with our mathematical, problem-solving side. Any good design out there aims to leverage both.

To me, the beauty of design is that it’s a chance to mix art with strategy…right brain with left. We get to create messages that appeal to humans from all different backgrounds. We’ll aim to attract the fierce executive and the loving mother, alike. We might target the attention of the thrill-seeking adventurer all while leaving a lasting impression with the level-headed CEO.

In graphic design, the methods available vary wildly. They could include color psychology, composition, relative imagery, humor, and even the latest trends of other successful campaigns. Like many others in my industry, my education began with the most basic of art principles and practices. These include the color wheel, perspective drawing, light sources, size relativity, and more. I started with a pencil and paper and continue to go back to those fundamentals. All these principles are still extremely valid, even in today’s fast-paced, overly-colorful world of media and entertainment.

As a designer, I know that most people looking at something we’ve done may ‘like’ it, but they might not know why. They won’t think about the fact  that the blue color we chose for the layout subliminally invokes a feeling of tranquility or that the purple we used in a logo traditionally represents royalty and wealth. We paired purple with a gold color that not only adds more subliminal value (representing wealth and sophistication, depending on the use), but it is also complimentary to purple on the color wheel. Most viewers would not identify the strategic placement of negative space going down the page that leads the eye in a fluid path pulling their attention to the ‘call to action’ at the bottom. And don’t even get me started on fonts; that’s where the true nerd shows through.

There is often a very fine line between design that works and design that doesn’t. Why? The answer lies in some of the psychology mentioned above along with a matrix of other influences, depending on the targeted audience. As with any career, experience has taught me a lot. However, even after 15 years, I still learn something new everyday. I will never consider myself a true master of design and marketing because of it’s ever-changing aspects. Human behavior changes. Styles and trends change. Therefore, design and marketing must change with it.

Think for a minute about some of the elements of the tens, even hundreds, of advertisements that you’re presented with each day. It could be anything from a billboard that you see on your drive home, a TV commercial, a Facebook ad, or a brochure you pick up at a store. What is appealing to you and why? How do the colors and design elements make you feel? Does your eye flow naturally through and stop at a specific point? Take a look at our work – can you spot out some things from our ‘bag of tricks?’