Brands want to make a connection with their target audience, and one of the best, certainly quickest ways of doing this is through generating an emotional (or visceral or gut) link through brand design. Because a design that triggers emotion is more likely to engender the belief among the audience that there are actual people behind the brand, and that it isn’t just a faceless entity. We are designing for humans, not robots, and should use (where appropriate) emotional cues that humans know how to respond to. Being emotional (including the emotions we wouldn’t consider to be ‘good’ or ‘healthy’) makes it all the harder to be uninvolved, and brand designers regularly try to take advantage of this.


Here are three of the most important emotion triggering methods designers use to try to build a deeper relationship between brand and audience.




The most obvious method, for a reason: colour has a dramatic impact on the way we feel. We know this intuitively (most of us wouldn’t consider painting a baby’s bedroom black), but it is also backed up by science: colour has a strong and consistent effect on emotions. The better a designer knows how to use colour, the better they can influence the way the audience will feel about a brand. Bevil Conway Harvard neuroscientist (and artist) has written that ‘Colour seems to have direct access to our emotions.’ And we aren’t about to argue with those credentials.




By using specific shapes we can communicate non-verbally and reach straight out to the consumer, and different shapes are used to convey different emotions. There are three basic types of shape and each are used by designers to convey meaning: Organic shapes tend to be irregular, spontaneous and comforting. Abstract shapes are often simplified organic shapes and, being distilled, tend to represent concepts. Geometric shapes are ordered and convey order and efficiency.




Think of a website with a layout you don’t like (I won’t give you any examples, we all have our own least favourite headache inducing culprits). Sometimes the layout is bad because there isn’t a great deal of thought behind it. Sometimes the layout is messy on purpose, because by frequently interjecting ads with the primary content we are more likely to run screaming less likely to miss the ads. Either way, bad layout doesn’t just make it harder to consume content of any kind, it also makes us feel bad – before we even consume the content. That’s right, we are very good at recognising when something will be difficult to scrutinise, and unsurprisingly that makes us feel sad.


Conversely, it has been shown that good layout (and everything that entails, like font and rendering quality), actually induces positive emotions.


Designing to evoke emotions should usually only be considered an aspect of design. Important, yes, but not more so than elements that invoke longer reflection (typically via verbal communication). It is the interplay between these seemingly conflicting elements, rather than the elements themselves in isolation, that often provides the audience with their lasting impressions of a brand.


Finally, although brand design, as we know it, hasn’t been around all that long, artists have long been creating and manipulating emotion through design. This artist (and famous quote of hers) stuck in my mind throughout writing this:


“I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for”.


By Oliver Brown