When people are scrolling through information, the majority of their mental processing is unconscious. This is because our brain tends to take shortcuts and make assumptions in order to process the information quickly.

That being said, 94% of articles with images get more total views. We tend to process information the quickest when text and visuals are used together, such as a photo with a caption or an infographic.

To keep your customers engaged, understand their cognitive functions, and then use that knowledge to elicit the emotion that will help you best connect. To yield your desired results, strive for a design that minimizes mental processing.

Start with a layout that organizes the information for your customer exactly how you want them to see and/or read it. Know that the brain generally avoids clutter and seeks order. Titles, headlines, and regular text can be organized strategically to ease customer interaction and limit the time they spend putting everything together. Don’t make your viewers work too hard. Be sure to highlight the content that you really want your customer to digest and take away even at a glance.

Whether you’re creating a logo, a flyer, or a new product label, be aware of the following principles of psychology to give your visuals a more meaningful impact.


We are always surrounded by colors that are influencing the way we feel. Each color has the power to provoke a certain emotion that affects our mood or performance. Using the right ones will help people react the way you intend.

For example, green emotes growth, health and energy and is often associated with nature, money or sustainability, while the color red has been shown to evoke urgency and excitement and is often useful in calls to action. Blue is one of the most commonly used colors amongst service organizations because it elicits trust and friendliness. Each color has an impact on the way people understand and interpret visuals. Research and utilize this information to your advantage.  

Social Influence

There are six parts to social influence: reciprocation, authority, commitment, scarcity, liking, and social proof. Start by understanding your audience and figure out why you want to influence them. Then you can use these principles to persuade your target market.

Incorporating client testimonials and social shares into your visual communications is a way to use the social proof theory. People want to see that a lot of people use your products and that they actually work. This explains why so many companies have reviews available for interested customers.


Whenever we see something, our brain automatically searches for something similar. This explains how we know what things are. For example, if someone gave you a coffee mug that you have never seen before, you would still know it was a coffee mug. Even though you haven’t seen every mug in the world, the patterns stored in your brain allow you to recognize new ones without question.

Patterns create familiarity. Despite that comfort, patterns that you have not been repeatedly exposed to are more memorable at first, but eventually will feel ordinary. Be careful that your images are not easily mistakable for something more recognizable. 

Gestalt Theory

One of the biggest assumptions that our brain makes lies in the psychology term “Gestalt” which is an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts. This principle thrives on synergy, which combines two things for a greater effect.

The principles of this theory include: similarity, continuation, closure, proximity, figure and ground, and common fate. The basic idea of this theory is that people will assume objects are grouped together depending on how the image is structured.

Be sure that you are aware of how people might interpret your design and find ways to avoid any confusion.

Facial Recognition

People love pictures of other humans, which explains why human faces are the most popular images used in visual communication. People in any part of the world can tell the difference between a happy and a sad face. This is because facial expressions are involuntary and universal. Thus, everyone can relate and understand them. You can take advantage of photography of people and faces to elicit a variety of powerful responses in those viewing your designs.

When using psychology to design, do not adopt every single principle listed above. While there are many concepts that can help to elicit the reaction you hope for, a basic understanding of people and how they react is enough to improve your visual content.

Don’t let these principles inhibit your creativity, but rather use your creativity to apply these principles in a meaningful design. A/B testing can also help you collect data regarding the impact of your visual communications and help you make better informed design choices.

How has psychology improved your visual content exposure? Share your ideas with us!

Disclaimer: Please note that this is not all-inclusive. Our guidance is designed only to give general information on the issues covered. It is not intended to be a comprehensive summary of all laws which may apply to your situation, treat exhaustively the subjects covered, provide legal advice, or render a legal opinion. Consult your legal advisor regarding the specific application of the information to your plan.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in August 2014 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.