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Psychological Elements of Design

Updated: Jun 15, 2021

By Jessica Bourn

We've talked before about the psychology behind color in design and marketing, and I'm back to talk about another psychological element of design that really interests me: how fonts can influence a viewer.

Let's start with the basics. You've heard of "serif" and "sans serif", right? The obvious difference being the lack of "feet" on sans serif fonts. Have you ever noticed which fonts certain companies use to convey a message? The easiest to identify is formal vs. informal. Maybe it goes without saying, but serif fonts tend to be used more formally, and sans serif more casual. A quick example is Prada vs. Target. Now tell me, which logo makes you think "friendly, welcoming, exciting"? Which one says, "expensive, dressy, statement"? From the font alone, we can easily make assumptions. Another difference to take note of-- PRADA vs. target. I think in recent times, Target has moved on to an all-caps use in some instances, but the message remains the same. Target is fun, welcoming to all, come spend your entire paycheck and walk away with a new wardrobe! Prada is classy, she's bold, she's ready to catch eyes.

Psychology in design is one of my favorite aspects of being a designer, because it's like putting together a formula to convey the message you want to put out in the world. Typography and color go hand-in-hand as one of the basic steps for relaying a message to an audience. We'll stick with Prada vs. Target in this example as well. What colors do you see Prada using in their logo and branding? Black, white, and generally either gold or silver when the logo is added to their products. Those colors are statements, they are refined, they are expensive. Target is bright red! Energetic, engaging, and, if you remember my Ted Talk about color psychology, I mentioned that red is often used in food branding because the color red triggers hunger in the human brain. So, the strategic use of Target's red conveys the fun and playful side of their brand, while reminding us that they also have a food section (and Starbucks, very important).

This concludes my talk about the aspects of design that aren't always obvious to the Average Joe in Target, or the expensive suburban mom in the Prada store. Keep an eye out for subtle messages like this in the brands you use everyday!

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