Making an Optical Impact

Visual Theory

Understanding how a brand’s visual elements appear to the customer can help you carve out greater success.

When a brand image is created well, the entire look is harmonious. The colors, fonts and other elements work together seamlessly and simply make sense. When the “look” doesn’t work, the result can be messy, disjointed and unprofessional.

To ensure your brand look is making the best impression on your customer, take a step back from the details. While a specific color, font or graphic may work in theory, the execution can sometimes be quite different. What many people don’t realize is that you can actually make your branding and outreach efforts more effective by considering how customers actually look at them. Here are some of the basics when it comes to how we actually—and literally–look at things.

Follow the Eye

In recent years, a great deal of research has been done on how we view various media. For example, in a report published in the April 2015 issue of the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, researchers found that directional cues such as an arrow pointing toward an object or someone gazing at it will direct people’s vision there more than if no such cue exists. Research from both Google and Nielsen Norman Group found that readers tend to scan Web pages in an F-shape, making two horizontal passes over the page, then scanning down the left-hand side to find results.

Clearly, how the eye interacts with your materials is an important area of consideration. Joe Cecere, president and chief creative officer at Minneapolis, Minnesota brand design agency Little, which works with brands like Target, Lowe’s, and Microsoft, says all of your elements must work together to make sure your visual impact is as strong as it can be. That means ensuring that the colors, typography, and images reflect your brand. But, it also means that no single element should be overwhelming.

“The number-one principle [in considering your visual impact] is simplicity and not overdoing it. Every day there are more and more bids for people’s attention. So simple is usually the strongest,” Cecere says.

The Power of Good Design

In addition, Cecere says the most powerful way to make an effective visual impact is to ensure the design work—ranging from a logo to a direct mail package to an online campaign—is rooted in the brand’s key messages. If you don’t have people in-house who have mastery of composition rules–font attributes and sizing, color combinations, and other graphic elements, for example–find someone who does. These core elements of good design are critical to a professional look.

Consistency and familiarity are also important, Cecere says. It’s a good idea to have written brand guidelines that detail how the logo is to be used, including your signature colors and fonts, sizing, and placement, as well as guidance on using it in your marketing and outreach.

“Look at the graphics from different angles and views and at a distance. The piece should be legible but not so big that it overwhelms,” he says.

And trust your gut. If you feel that the “look” isn’t quite right or isn’t going to draw in your customer, try not to settle until you feel good about the presentation. After all, it’s your business image on the line, he says. You need to feel good about it.

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