Consumers are surrounded by advertising every day, from targeted ads on our smartphones to the bus wraps on our city streets. But how can you make sure your ad stands out from the rest and reaches your audience?

Visual perception – that is, how we perceive our surroundings visually – plays an important role in advertising but it’s not just about creating a visually appealing advertisement. There’s actually a science behind designing ads that will help you reach your audience and improve your likelihood of campaign success.

Human vision is pretty impressive. We’re able to interpret our surroundings to safely interact with our environment without much conscious effort. But, we’re also well-attuned to nature and the things that occur naturally, which has significant implications for design – especially when it relates to out of home advertising. If advertising design isn’t tuned in and supportive of human visual perception, the viewing experience is lackluster and can cause your ad to flop completely.

When designing ads and prints, there are plenty of best practices to consider alongside these visual psychology tips to help you reach your audience and create a successful campaign.

Color in the lines

Humans associate different colors with strong feelings or thoughts, and designers have done a lot of research to identify which colors are most closely linked to what feelings or moods. This great infographic can help you understand color psychology a bit more, but for a quick rundown:

  • Blue is considered the color of security, calmness, and strength.
  • Red is the color of energy, love, and passionate boldness.
  • Orange denotes happiness, sociability affordability.
  • Yellow is the color of legal pads because it’s considered logical, confident, and forward-thinking.
  • Purple has long been a regal color, but it also signifies imagination, creativity and nostalgia.
  • Green is the color of growth, giving a sense of nature and caring… but also wealth.
  • Black denotes sophistication, luxury, and seduction giving it an air of exclusivity.
  • White means purity or innocence but is also considered the color of clarity.

By carefully selecting the colors in your visual advertising, you can set a tone of playfulness or trust when reaching your audience by elevating your messaging through color psychology. A combination of many colors creates a bold and multi-faceted feeling of positivity, while a monochromatic ad can further strengthen feelings of trust or sophistication.

Don’t be afraid of the odd one out

A principle of design psychology known as the Von Restorff effect tells us that the oddball item is the one we remember. So how you can make this work for your advertising?

Consider this: A black and white image with your product highlighted in full color incorporates both the Von Restorff effect principle and color psychology. This simple visual trick draws the audience into your product, allowing it to stand out.

Similarly, you can place your call to action in a box or otherwise make it different from the other text in your ad.

All for one and one for all

The Gestalt Principles have been around for nearly 100 years but they’re as relevant today as they were then. “Gestalt” means “unified whole,” so this visual psychology theory explores users’ visual perception of elements as they relate to one another. That is, it shows how people unify visual elements into groups, such as:


When objects are placed close to one another, those objects are often seen as one group rather than individual objects. For example, you could use multiple shapes to create letters or words.


Objects that look similar are perceived as a single object or part of the same group. For example, the NBC logo has similar cones which are perceived as being part of the same group despite their different colors and positions.


As the eye moves naturally from one object to the next through the creation of curved lines, continuity occurs. This is evident in the Olympic logo.


Closure occurs when a shape is perceived as a whole object even though it’s not fully closed. For example, using white space and colored shapes to create a perceived singular piece.


One of the easiest tricks to use in your visual advertising, figure/ground refers to the visual perception of an object as a figure and the surrounding area as the ground. A great way to use this visual psychology in your advertising is through soft blurring of the background and sharp focus on your messaging.

The Gestalt principles confirm in practice that our brains play tricks on us, meaning advertisers can consider this theory when creating advertisements to further drive home messaging or exclude the possibility of misunderstandings due to design flaws.

Don’t underestimate instinct

Mama always said to trust your gut and visual advertising can use this good advice, too. Thanks to our “old brain”, visceral reactions – which are rooted in our DNA and, thus easily predicted – can cause us to immediately buy into an advertisement or totally turn us off.

The good news is it’s actually fairly simple to avoid turning off the masses with your visual advertising. Aim to create a positive aesthetic that resonates with the average person – beautiful seascapes, sunsets, or waterfalls, for example – and avoid polarizing or obnoxious imagery and typeface.

The reaction your audience has when seeing your prints can be managed and even manipulated through the use of imagery, color, and simple visual psychology principles to best enable you to reach your audience. When combined with your messaging and branding, these visual psychology tips can help your audience remember your ads – even in the busyness of today’s advertisement-heavy world.