Psychology of Design: Color & Typography

How Color and Fonts Make a Big Difference

I graduated CU-Boulder with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a minor in Technology, Arts, and Media. People often ask why I didn’t major in design or some other related field and the simple answer is it just wasn’t offered. The more complicated answer is I’m glad I majored in Psychology because it gives me an advantage in fine-tuning a design based on the cues I gather from a specific person or company.

There are two primary areas of psychological design that I consider when designing and each of them plays a huge role in how a user sees your website. These are also two essential elements that are pivotal to BUHV’s design process.


Choosing the Best Color Palatte

Colors have more of an influence on us than we are usually aware of. For example, did you know that the colors red and yellow stimulate hunger? Now think about fast-food restaurants that you’ve seen while driving along the road, what do most of them have in common? Red or yellow logos. To list a few: McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Wendy’s, Arby’s, In-n-out, Carl’s Jr., Church’s, KFC, Dairy Queen, Subway, Taco Bell, Popeye’s, Hardee’s, Qdoba, and Sonic.

“Brand Personality” refers to the effect or the personality, a brand’s logo color or colors have on their audience. In a segment in an article written by Gregory Ciotti, “5 Dimensions of Brand Personality,” he explains that it is vastly more important to choose colors for your brand that support the personality you’d like to portray, not the stereotypical color associations.

Consider this image for color portrayals:

Ciotti explains how, “[b]rands can sometimes cross between two traits, but they are mostly dominated by one. While certain colors do broadly align with specific traits (e.g., brown with ruggedness, purple with sophistication, and red with excitement), nearly every academic study on colors and branding will tell you that it’s far more important for colors to support the personality you want to portray instead of trying to align with stereotypical color associations.

5 Dimensions of Brand Personality Chart - Buhv Designs

Consider the inaccuracy of making broad statements such as “green means calm.” The context is absent: sometimes green is used to brand environmental issues, like Seventh Generation, but other times it’s meant to brand financial spaces, such as Mint.

And while brown may be useful for a rugged appeal — see how it’s used by Saddleback Leather — when positioned in another context, brown can be used to create a warm, inviting feeling (Thanksgiving) or to stir your appetite (every chocolate commercial you’ve ever seen).

Bottom line: There are no clear-cut guidelines for choosing your brand’s colors. “It depends” is a frustrating answer, but it’s the truth. However, the context you’re working within is an essential consideration. It’s the feeling, mood, and image that your brand or product creates that matters. 

Another important thing to note is “Power colors”, these colors are going to be on the opposite end of the spectrum from the colors featured above. These are dark-toned colors of black, blue, green, red, and gray. The darker the color, the higher the authority.

Typeface – Saying More Than You Think

There are two very basic categories of typefaces: serif, and sans-serif. Within these categories are a plethora of other styles and fonts. Generally speaking, serif comes across as traditional, stable, refined, and respectable; while sans-serif fonts can be described as simple, modern, and straightforward. In addition to these two broad categories, there are also, display fonts, decorative fonts, modern fonts, and script fonts.

How do different fonts affect us? Vladimir Gendelman answers this question with an article appropriately titled, “Font Psychology: How Typefaces Hack Our Brains.” He says that “Understanding font psychology takes more than just knowing what emotional baggage the audience carries with regard to certain font families. There are other subconscious effects a font can have on the brain. Knowing how the human brain deciphers and perceives a certain font can help you to unlock its true potential or avoid any hidden pitfalls that might hinder your message. For instance, we associate certain fonts families with smells and even taste. Confused? Take a look at the image below.

How fonts choices make meaning for food - Buhv Designs

Would the cheeseburger seem as appetizing if it was titled with the sans serif font? I don’t think so.


What Does Your Design Say About Your Business?

It takes users mere seconds to form an opinion about design. Whether that be a logo, website, print or product. It is important to convey properly the feeling and message you want to communicate. Doing this successfully can have an impact on patrons, purchases of products, daily active users and site traffic. Just think about it! Would you trust a bank with a neon pink logo with Comic Sans font? Are you more likely to use the services or a product from a beautifully designed and built website that someone worked very hard on, or something someone threw together in a pinch?

Good design also plays an essential role in conversion rate optimization (CRO). Establishing a strong brand messaging is crucial in a comprehensive marketing approach as much as the design of the website.

There are so many more aspects of psychological design besides color and typeface, like the layout, imagery, spacing, gestalt, and so much more. Have we peaked your interest? The Psychology of Design: Creating Consumer Appeal is a good place to get started on your research!

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