Jiang, Gorn, Galli and Chattopadhyay. Journal of Consumer Research
As brand design experts we have a thorough understanding of the basic principles of shape in logo design. At its most simple level, we know that people tend to associate circular shapes with soft, comfy things, and angular shapes with hard, sturdy things. “If you think about it, circular shapes on average tend to be quite soft—balls, pillows, mattresses—whereas angular shapes like bricks, tables, and knives tend to be hard and durable,” says Chattopadhyay, a professor of marketing at INSEAD. “These associations probably form over time because that’s how we encounter the world.”
The research set-out to see whether they could exploit these strong associations with logo shape as a subtle, subconscious influence on consumer perceptions.Researchers had people look at a set of indicative ads for either athletic shoes or a sofa. The ads included a circular logo, an angular logo, or no logo at all. The researchers found that when people looked at these ads, they perceived the shoes or sofa with a circular logo as more comfortable whereas they thought shoes and sofas with an angular logo would be more durable. This is… “what’s called priming—the idea that you prime certain concepts in someone’s mind by showing them something that’s associated with,” says Tom Meyvis, a professor of marketing at NYU.
And it goes deeper than just the logo
But well beyond product associations, this same effect impact the associations we have with the brand and the company behind the brand.
In another experiment by the guys at INSEAD, they showed people either a circular or angular logo attributed to a fictional airline. They then played-out a scenario where a passenger was attempting to board his flight with overweight carry-on luggage. The research study participants were then asked how they thought the airline would deal with him—whether the company would show Kevin empathy, and let him on-board with his luggage or not.
The research found that when people associated a circular logo with the airline, they believed the airline would be more sensitive and considerate towards Kevin as compared to that same fictional airline with an angular logo. This demonstrated that brand associations driven by the shape of the logo impact a much greater degree of brand experience than just ads or packaging where the logo appears. What makes this study so powerful is that the airline companies were fictitious, demonstrating the extent to which the logo shape activated these powerful associations, and influenced what people thought of a company.
“These are all things that companies should keep in mind”, says Chattopadhyay. “When companies are designing their logos, they should be thoughtful about making these associations fit with the associations they want for their brand,” he says. “We need to worry about what we’re saying to consumers verbally versus what we’re signaling accidentally or deliberately through other kinds of cues,” he explains. And Chattopadhyay goes further, suggesting that even the shape of physical objects—like product packaging and store design—may influence people’s judgments.
The shape of a logo is just one layer in the complex beast of branding. Whilst it’s important to get this element right, the same effect plays out on the other layers of visual language, communications and customer experience that integrate to create brand engagement.
Not all brand identity designers are born equal
This research underscores what we have always maintained; the complexity of brand identity design demands expertise. Brand owners and managers who fail to understand the difference between those with expertise and those without, run the very real risk of communicating confused and misleading messages about them and their products to their clients and customers.
David is the founder of Truly Deeply, a brand agency with 25 years experience working with brands to position them for growth. His deep expertise is in the creation of high engagement brands that attract the attention of their audience and stand out from their competitors. David has extensive experience working with corporate, retail, food & beverage and entrepreneurial clients. Find out more at…
We first spotted a fascinating article on this subject on FastCoDesign.com