It is said that we should never judge a book by its cover. We shouldn’t make prejudgments based on the outside. However, images and illustrations make publications and ads more interesting. Colors and pictures catch attention quite likely. More importantly, branding and logos are crucial parts of marketing. One cannot deny role of outward appearances in people’s preferences and even decisions. In this featured study by Dr. Lulu Rodriguez and her colleagues in 2013, we will see that even the intent of individuals in visiting a country is influenced by the country’s official tourism logo.
Branding in a national scale or for tourism involves establishing a positive image that would differentiate a country on the global market (Rodriguez, Asoro, Lee, & Sar, 2013). Countries promote symbols that would communicate their distinctive characteristics in the global community in order to draw many tourists. (In other words, countries make their covers fascinating and eye-catching.) One way to attain this is by creating a memorable destination logo. What are the techniques used by developers in creating these logos?
Logo developers, and advertisers for that matter, take advantage of Gestalt principles in making designs. Gestalt principles were propagated by the Gestalt psychologists in the early 1900s as basis for understanding how people visually assemble individual elements or objects into groups. Briefly described, Gestalt means “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. Thus, in creating logos, developers consider the whole picture and not simply its individual parts, because it is the totality of the elements that ultimately creates the meaning (Rodriguez et al., 2013).
Some of the Gestalt principles included in the study are similarity, proximity, continuation, closure, assimilation, and figure-ground relationships. The similarity principle states that we perceive similar things (in color, shape, size, or orientation) to be grouped together. The proximity principle, on the other hand, tells us that things that are near each other appear to be grouped together. Continuation or continuity points out that lines tend to be seen in such a way as to follow the smoothest path or that objects that are partially covered are seen as continuing behind the covering object (Goldstein, 2014). Closure illustrates how we prefer closed contours over open contours, making us close the gaps in objects and form wholes. Assimilation tells us that a stimulus obtained by any one of our senses is related to our vast storehouse of experience and behavior. Finally, figure-ground relationships tell us that our continuous search for closed contours predisposes us to distinguish the objects (figure) from their backgrounds (ground). Below are examples that illustrate these Gestalt principles included in the study.
According to Rodriguez and her colleagues (2013), the viewers use these principles (however unconscious or unaware) to group elements into organized wholes and later seek interpretations of the total images formed. As was cited in a similar preliminary study also conducted by Rodriguez and her colleagues in 2012, these Gestalt principles have been shown to have a significant relationship with audience responses, including positive affect or emotion, perceptions of quality, recognition, and consensus in meaning. Therefore, a country logo containing these Gestalt principles might induce a positive affect or emotion that would later influence an individual’s intent to visit that country.
The researchers garnered 154 logos from the 116 websites of different countries. These country logos were assessed by two graduate students who are proficient in visual communications design. The logos were rated based on the extent to which the abovementioned six Gestalt principles were present using a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being low and 5 being high in gestalt characteristics. The researchers then obtained the rating averages and chose the two highest rated logos, the two lowest rated logos, and the two logos rated closest to the middle score (median) as the representatives of the high-gestalt level, low-gestalt level, and medium-gestalt level conditions, respectively. Below are the country logos used in the study:
These logos were formatted in an online survey that was answered by 208 participants, all undergraduate students taking an introductory advertising course in Iowa State University. The survey also included scales to measure intention to visit (5-point scale, 1=strongly disagree and 5=strongly agree, in response to the statement “I would like to visit this country someday”) and recognition (5-point scale, 1=strongly disagree and 5=strongly agree, in response to the statements “I can identify this logo with the country it represents” and “This logo captures the characteristics of the country it represents”).
The results of the study showed that logos with medium-gestalt characteristics outperformed the logos with high- and low-gestalt characteristics in terms of the extent to which the participants can capture the essence of the country that the logos represent (recognition). At the same time, high-gestalt logos produced higher intention to visit responses than logos low in gestalt characteristics and logos having medium gestalt characteristics. These findings demonstrate that the high-gestalt level logos provide ease to individuals in their recognition of the countries that the logos stand for and in their intention to visit these countries. Also, the findings add evidence to support the notion that logos strong in pattern-making or grouping of elements (high-gestalt level) induce more positive affect or emotion, such as excitement. This might also be the explanation to the high intention to visit ratings of the countries having high-gestalt logos. These logos contain patterns and groupings that were intriguing enough to make the respondents feel a sense of excitement (positive affect) in the idea of visiting these countries someday. Meanwhile, the finding that medium-gestalt logos were identified more with the country they symbolize than high-gestalt logos may suggest that people’s preference for logos are not too simplistic but not overly complex at the same time.
Just a little caveat: it is also important to note that the assessment of the logos’ gestalt levels were made by only two individuals and each gestalt level condition only has two representative logos. This means that although the reliability or the consistency of the scorers’ ratings were established, two raters were still insufficient. At the same time, the respondents will have a better basis for their ratings if they were provided with more than two logos for each condition. It may also be valuable for future studies to look at whether the accompanying taglines of the country tourism logos may affect their gestalt levels, and therefore the ratings of the respondents as well.
This study provided empirical evidence for the claim that logos can elicit affective responses and that Gestalt principles found in them were at play. Gestalt principles are important considerations in creating logos, especially those used in nation branding. Maybe, we really should not judge a book by its cover, but we can always examine the Gestalt principles present or absent in a book cover. In that way, we can be empirical in judging a book! (And we can perhaps send helpful suggestions to the author and publisher.)
Look here, does our country’s tourism logo display high-gestalt characteristics? Based on the study of Rodriguez and colleagues (2013), would our country get a high intention to visit rating?
How about the logos of your hometowns? Share us your thoughts!
Rodriguez, L., Asoro, R.L., Lee, S., & Sar, S. (2013). Gestalt Principles in Destination Logos and Their Influence on People’s Recognition and Intention to Visit a Country. Online Journal of Communication & Media Technologies, 3(1), 91-107.
Other references used:
Goldstein, E. B. (2014). Sensation and Perception, 9th Edition. USA: Wadsworth/Cengage.
Javier, L. (2011). Gestalt theory + visual metaphor = logo design. Retrieved from http://issuu.com/elaiyuarai/docs/gestalt.
Lee, S., Rodriguez, L., & Sar, S. (2012). The influence of logo design on country image and willingness to visit: A study of country logos for tourism. Public Relations Review, 38, 584-591. doi: 10.1016/j.pubrev.2012.06.006