Design that Draws Emotion

How smart brand design can evoke positive feelings about your community

You know that your brand is extremely important. It’s what distinguishes you among a sea of competitors. But what many people forget is there’s more to a successful brand than high-quality products and features, or a beautiful logo. It’s driven by your ability to spark a powerful emotional connection with your audience. Author Simon Sinek says it best: “People don’t buy WHAT you do; they buy WHY you do it.”

Sizzle sells

People are driven by emotion, plain and simple. It dominates decision-making, affects memories, and increases motivation. Why else would film directors put so much effort into selecting the right music, lighting, locations, and actors? Or what about the writers who painstakingly work to develop magnetic characters and choose the perfect words for their novels? They want their audience to feel something: happiness, fear, shock, empathy, joy. When a movie or book evokes the right feelings in the right moments, the audience gets sucked in for more.

Even tech-based companies like Apple know that their advertising needs to appeal to people’s emotions to win. And boy, do they win.

As graphic designers for places, we aim to help you create visual communications that evoke positive feelings for your audience. Steven Spielberg didn’t develop masterpieces like Jurassic Park or E.T. overnight, it was strategy combined with some creative magic. We’re no Steven Spielberg, but developing an emotional community brand is similar in that it’s not all intuition; there’s no magic bullet; it’s based on strategy and creativity.

Image Courtesy of Alena Azerova /

Let’s get emotional

We all know what it feels like to walk into a place where something doesn’t feel quite right. You’re so put off that you get out of there before even sitting down.

On the flip side, there are places that give us the warm fuzzies. Have you ever walked into a Pottery Barn store and instantly felt relaxed and comfortable? That’s not a coincidence. Warm lighting, neutral colors, sprays of flowers, and a subtle potpourri smell, invite us all to sit on a fluffy couch and enjoy all the feels.

For many people, home is the perfect example. There’s a reason why you’re overcome with a sweet sense of relief the moment you walk through the front door. All is right in the world again, even if you can’t put your finger on precisely what makes you feel so comfortable.

How do you want people to feel in your place? That’s the first question to consider when you’re developing a new brand. Do you want them to feel excited? Nostalgic? Inspired? Many communities offer similar benefits – great schools, charming neighborhoods, amenities, safety and more, but what makes you stand out is a brand experience that makes people say, “I want to be here…”.

A strong visual brand can elicit an intentional emotional response.

Designing your brand toolbox

Here is where things start to get really fun for us designers. Your brand identity is made up of a variety of interconnected design elements that work together to communicate your personality. When done right, these tools increase recognition and trigger good vibes toward your brand.

Here’s an overview of what they are and how they work:

  • Color

    Picasso once said, “Colors, like features, follow the changes of emotions.” Artists and psychologists have long believed that color dramatically affects feelings and moods, making it a powerful communication tool. For instance, bright red is often associated with passion or boldness. Blue signals relaxation and calm. Orange often translates to fun and enthusiasm while yellow signals warmth and energy. Context can make a difference too. If your logo is all red, that can signal specific emotions, but as a subtle accent, it probably won’t evoke the same feeling. Color can be tricky when it comes to branding because there are so many choices. We approach color as its own thing – outside of the logo – to ensure it nails the right sentiments.

    Another factor is how color often takes on different meanings or associations in different places and different cultures. For example: if your client or constituent base is in Cleveland, you may want to avoid a black-and-gold color palette due to the longstanding heated rivalry between the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers. This may seem ridiculous when you’re building a brand (especially if you’re not from Cleveland), but the brand is not for you, it’s for your audiences, so those associations should be considered.

    Remember, your color palette doesn’t have to be limited to 1-2 colors. We often recommend 2-3 primary colors with 3-5 secondary colors to add diversity across your communications, without compromising brand consistency.

  • Voice

    Knowing your brand voice goes a long way to helping your audience understand and define the personality of your communications. It should be aligned with whatever emotional response you want to provoke. Is it playful? Confident? Inspirational? Whichever way it goes, it should always be clear and consistent to avoid confusing people.

  • Typography

    Once you’ve nailed your brand identity, you can make some decisions about primary typeface(s). Your typeface “carries” information in an emotional way on both the conscious and subconscious levels. Beyond selecting a typeface, the way you use and style typeface is a factor in its success. For example, how fo you leverage type size, weight, and letter-spacing for consistent headings, subheads, features, and body copy?
    No matter what typeface aligns with your personality, it’s most important that it is clear and legible so anyone can understand what you’re saying. If people can’t read it, they’re probably not going to come back.

  • Photography

    We live in an increasingly visual world and people are much more likely to visit your website or social media pages before even stepping foot in your community. Ask yourself how your photos look across these channels. Are people having fun and enjoying themselves? Do the images represent a diverse audience? Have they been updated within the last 5-10 years? Your photos, like other design tools, will draw an emotional response. Part of your brand standards should include direction on the style of photography to align with your brand.

  • Textures, patterns, and icons

    Many of our clients’ brand strategies also incorporate various textures, patterns, or icons/badges that they can apply to their print and digital communications. These elements add depth and clarity to the communication, as well as personality and flair, depending on what you need to communicate.

Image Courtesy of Savvapanf Photo /

“I Love…”

People are trained to be rational decision-makers, but emotion comes into play, it often trumps logic. It’s all about how we feel, and the community brands that win are the ones that get in touch with their emotional side.

There’s no greater example of this than New York City’s “I Love NY” campaign. Back in 1976, the city was in the midst of a crisis. They were facing financial insolvency. Crime was scaring away tourists. Perceptions weren’t great. That’s when they hired an agency that developed the iconic “I Love NY” brand campaign that is synonymous with city pride. To this day, it continues to be a recognizable and universally understood logo. You can’t visit NYC without feeling compelled to buy a t-shirt, magnet or postcard that leads with the memorable slogan.


Does your community’s brand make people say, “I love [insert your name here]” or whatever it is you want them to feel? If not, maybe it’s time to revisit your approach. We’re here to help.

Mary Wunderle
Design Consultant


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