The design of any marketing material, from websites to print and other media, aims to elicit a specific reaction or action from the audience. While there is no instant formula for success when it comes to graphic design, understanding the behavioural science or psychology behind design can help you use it more effectively to convey your particular message.

So what is the psychology of graphic design?

This term refers to the ways in which people respond to images on an emotional and thought level – how images make them feel. Design psychology is based around Gestalt principles (more on this in a moment!), semiotics, the use of colour and typeface, and the placement of photos and drawings. Essentially, the psychology of design involves creating a match between the design, and the way the human brain organises information.

Using these design principles


Gestalt means ‘unified whole’. It refers to the ways in which people have a tendency to organise elements into groups or patterns in their minds. This might be based on:

  • Similarity – similar shapes, even when not exactly the same, may be perceived as a whole single unit when placed together. This also means that a shape that is different – or dissimilar – from the rest can be used as a focal point.
  • Closure – this occurs when an object or shape is incomplete or not completely enclosed, and people fill in the gaps themselves, thereby creating the whole image in their minds. The object has to be ‘suggested’ to a sufficient degree that people can recognise what it represents.
  • Proximity – occurs when elements or objects are placed sufficiently near to each other for people to view them as a group or whole unit, even if they are not touching.

Gestalt theory can be very useful when designing logos, websites or stylised images used in advertising.


This refers to the ways in which signs convey a message. Typical examples include smartphone app symbols, desktop icons, and elements like stop signs on the roads and universal symbols such as the wheelchair access icon.


Colour can be used to elicit an emotional response or particular mood. For example, red might be used to invoke excitement or action, yellow used for cheerfulness, and blue for dependability and trust.

It’s probably no accident that companies like Coke and Virgin use red – the colour of passion and energy – in their branding. Cooler colours such as blue and green tend to draw less attention than warmer colours, and can be useful as background colours – when you want to emphasise written content for example.


Images are key elements of design, and are capable of conjuring up a mood, feeling or thought in mere seconds. For example, an image of a pair of thongs conjures up thoughts of summer. A direct gaze makes a viewer more responsive, and a happy or sad face conveys that feeling to the viewer instantly.


When it comes to design, the finished product needs to not only look good, but also to work in the way you want. For instance, it’s understood that people tend to read website pages in a Z pattern from the top-left corner, so important information such as logos and call-to-action buttons should be placed within this pattern.

There is also more to design than colour and images. When designing websites, information and factors such as well-placed testimonials, the ability to move easily between pages, and having easy-to-read fonts can all make a vast difference to how a customer responds to the overall design.

The psychology of graphic design is something we at Omnific Design incorporate into all projects at our Williamstown office. We understand the principles, and we use graphic design in ways that catch the eye of your target market, and get your desired results.

This content was originally published on Omnific Design before we rebranded as Uplift 360.