Logo design is really important. It isn’t just about picking something that looks pretty (or even worse - something because it's cheap). It is about choosing a design that represents your brand, who you are, and what you provide. You can be sure that customers will notice your logo - and judge you on it. It might seem obvious, or at least common sense, to say that the shape of a logo will effect the attitudes of the customer on the brand. It did make sense to me. However I don’t think I realised the extent of the effect, and what it might mean in a more practical sense, until I read this new research…
A recent article published in the Journal of Consumer Research (read it here), looked at how circular or angular logos might affect peoples attitudes and perceptions towards products and brands. And the results are worth understanding in terms of your logo and your business.
The first point to understand is that most people use some form of mental imagery (think of it like imagination) to understand their world. This is something that they do subconsciously. For example, if we are thinking about going in to a shop, we might start to imagine what the shop looks like inside, what types of clothes we might find in there, what types of customers go in there and so on. These are not conscious thoughts or images, probably you don’t know it is happening, but it is. This mental imagery isn’t even necessarily pictures in your mind, but can be nonvisual things like when you imagine what something smells like or tastes like, or what a surface might feel like. And it is this mental imagery that forms the basis of why shapes of logos change attitudes.
So what types of images did participants conjure up when they viewed the logos in this research? Well basically the experimenters had 2 main logo types - circular and angular (square) - pictured below.
They hypothesised that the circle would link with a notion of softness (as it has no corners or sharp edges) and that the angular (square) logo would link with notions of hardness or “durability”, as this is a common feature of something that is harder, and a nice practical example of hardness in terms of products.
The effect of logo styles on attitudes
In their first test they showed 2 lots of participants two types of ads. They were identical advertisements for shoes - except that the logo was displayed was either the double circle, or the double square (images above). They asked participants several questions about the shoes and the ad - among those questions asking whether they thought the shoe looked comfortable and whether the shoe looked durable. In this experiment the circle logo had higher responses for comfort and the square logo had higher responses for durable. This is interesting because it not only shows that a logo affects perception of a brand (friendly brand vs trustworthy brand) but the perception continues outward to the actual product itself.
In their second test they replicated these results further by using a more complex looking circular logo and square logo, and this time using a couch / sofa instead of shoes (logos used pictured below).
Once again, participants rated that the couch looked softer when they were shown the circular logo, and more durable when shown the square logo. So there’s good reason to assume that this would translate over many types of products.
The effect of logo design on advertising
In a later experiment the researchers presented the same looking shoe ad as before, however they added a line of body copy at the top of the ad which was either in line with the perceptions of the logo, or in contrast to it. That is - the body copy said “introducing the new Farber comfort walker” or “introducting the new Farber power tracker” (power was decided to be the key word that integrated with hardness and durability).
What I found especially interesting here was not just that participants attitudes changed toward the shoe again depending on the logo, but that they were willing to pay more money when the copy was inline with the logo then when it was not. That is, they paid more money when the ad had the word “comfort” in conjunction with the circular logo, and more money when the ad used the word “power” with the square logo.
So not only does a logo conjure up feelings about a brand, it can also shift attitudes and effect perceptions of the products made by that brand. And even more amazing (to me at least) the logo shape with the body copy of the ad effected how much money they would pay!
The effect of logo design on services
One last really interesting thing to take away from this research - in one of their experiments they showed 2 groups of participants a bunch of logos and asked them to rate how they looked. What the participants didn’t know was that these logos were priming them for the next activity. Priming, in psychology speak, basically means you get ideas in people’s heads before the next phase of the experiment to see if those ideas affect them - but you need to prime them without them really knowing your doing it. So this experiment had the participants rate the design of each logo, but the participants didn’t realise that they were being shown all circular shaped logos, and another group was being shown all square shaped logos.
After the groups were primed with their square or circular logos they were asked a question about customer service. In a nutshell, they had a story about Kevin, who accidentally packed a suitcase that was too heavy to take as carry on luggage on a budget style airline. The participants were then asked to rate the airline’s customer sensitivity - whether they thought it was likely or not likely that they would help Kevin, empathise with him and understand his problem. The researchers hypothesised that the circular shapes would translate again to softness, which in this practical setting might affect their attitude of how soft, or sensitive, the customer service would be.
The participants in the circular shape priming group where more likely to think the airline would be sensitive to Kevin’s needs then the square shape group.
That might not sound like much, but I find it fascinating. It means that showing someone certain shapes can affect their perception of customer service! And think about this - if you think you will be treated unkindly from customer service, how might you act? Chances are you might immediately set yourself up for more of a fight: be more defensive, already a tad angry, have a louder tone and perhaps slightly more aggressive attitude. And then how would that attitude in turn affect the customer service officer? Possibly put them off and make them less willing to help. Now that flow on effect isn’t in the research, but it certainly is something I have seen both in my personal and professional life. So the effect of priming customers to have a more positive attitude about the service they could receive not only helps the brand be viewed more favourably, it could also help the customer to act more kindly, and make the whole encounter smoother and more friendly. All that from some circle shapes!
So in a practical sense, perhaps having circular shapes on the customer contact website page could help complaints, or perhaps circular flowing imagery or furniture could help customers view a service desk as more able to help.
What to take away:
- Not only does a logo effect people’s perceptions of your brand, it extends to their attitude of the products you provide and even the service you offer.
- It’s important to think about whether your logo matches your products and services. For example maybe circular / rounded logos for soft products like baby wear or gentle services like healthcare, but more angular for tough items like work wear or strong services like legal aid.
- The shape of your logo along with your advertising body copy can influence how much people are willing to spend on your product (and possibly service). So it’s important to consider logo perceptions, and how to use advertising that is congruent with those perceptions instead of what contrasts with them.
- Lastly, shapes might help subconsciously influence your service. So how could possibly use shapes within your designs to tell the customers the right story about you and your business?
What are your thoughts? Did this make you think about your logo? Could you use design more effectively on your service pages or in store?