A Designer’s Perspective: How Graphic Design Can Impact Emotions

pastels mixed together
Written By: Jenny Reolfi

Quick To Judge

Why do people judge a book by its cover? We’re told we shouldn’t, but we’re all guilty of doing it at some point. Have you ever wondered why a book cover drives us to read it or leave it? In part, it’s because the graphic design does influence human emotions.

Visual content affects our brains before our rational and cognitive processes can weigh in. Elements like size, grouping, and color all affect emotional responses. These responses trigger snap judgments (“I like this” or “I don’t like this”).

My goal as a graphic designer is to transform a client’s vision and intent in a way that helps meet their organization’s goals.

Using psychology and careful composition, designs can better resonate with specific audiences. As design graduate, Robin Matthew states, “Design is where science and art break even.”

Know Your Demographic

There’s a level of variability that affects how well one book cover resonates over another that is dependent on the viewer. Designers review what they know about a target demographic to find common interests. We look for bucket interests that apply to a group, not to a specific individual.

Let’s look at two examples of commercials for air fresheners…Which one of the scenarios below do you think will resonate best for moms in their mid-30s?

An active family zooms in and out of a living room in alternating school and sport outfits. A woman stands in the middle and sprays an air freshener, causing all motion to fade away. “An air freshener that keeps up with the pace of your home.”


A monster truck drives over a smaller vehicle while a rowdy and excited crowd cheers ecstatically. “An air freshener to cover up those monster smells.”

I believe most marketers would say ad #1 will resonate more with mothers in their 30s because it’s better relates to their current lifestyle.

Now, I’m not saying moms can’t enjoy monster truck ads, but if you study the trends, ad #2 will most likely not resonate with our target audience. This will harm the overall success of your campaign.

Marketers perform countless hours of research and deliberation to really get to know their target market. The same principle for this ad applies to graphic design.

Color Determines Feeling

There is room for debate on whether our perception of colors is a learned response or purely instinctual, but I believe it’s a combination of the two.

A color’s meaning can be subjective based on factors like culture, or personal preference. Yet, there are colors that share universal meaning. For example, color wheels classify red, orange and yellow as warm, while blue, purple and green are cool.

In the United States, colors are often associated with specific subjects or emotions:

  • Pastels: Baby toys, blankets, etc.
  • Red/Blue: Politics
  • Red: Power, Confidence
  • Orange: Energy, Enthusiasm
  • Yellow: Optimism, Caution
  • Blue: Calming, Trustworthy
  • Green: Nature, Jealousy
  • Purple: Wealth, Imagination

It’s Human Nature

When creating a book cover, a designer uses this knowledge to select colors that match the subject matter or target demographic. Careful, intentional selection of color helps draw the eye.

Graphic design can influence human emotions when one considers the interests of demographic and meaningful color associations.

Anyone can create something to fill a page, but a true designer creates a piece that performs.

The difference between good design and exceptional design is the level of thoughtful intention invested in its execution.

Want to read more about the psychology of color? Click here.

Check out our most recent brand redesign here.