July 23rd, 2021

5 Minutes To: UX Design and Psychology

For the more cynical out there, I think there’s a tendency to see graphic design as little more than ‘making things look nice’. But scratch the surface, and designers have a lot of different components to consider, sometimes on the smallest of decisions, which is why I want to talk to you today about buttons. 

This may seem a particularly niche topic, but I actually want to begin today with the well-documented ‘bouba / kiki’ experiment. It’s very simple, and you can take part right now! 

The Language of Shapes

Look at the two shapes below, and consider which shape is called ‘bouba’ and which is called ‘kiki’.

Of course, neither of these shapes are named kiki or bouba, in fact, neither of the words are real, but if you’re in the western hemisphere, chances are, you ascribe the word ‘kiki’ to the shape on the left, and ‘bouba’ to the shape on the right. 

This effect was discovered nearly 100 years ago, in 1929. Why this is important to design though, is because the effect also applies to names and characters - whether they’re real people, fictional characters, or even brands. A study undertaken by Sindhu & Pexman concluded that names with “round” consonants such as Molly were consistently paired with round silhouettes, and names with “sharp” consonants such as Kate with sharp silhouettes.

They went on to write that people will link metaphorically “round” adjectives like easy going with “round names”; and metaphorically “sharp” adjectives like determined with “sharp names.”

Character Design

UX Planet undertook a character analysis to show how character traits can often be communicated through design, with a few examples below using three key shapes: squares, circles, and triangles.

Square Characters are commonly seen as reliable, uniform, traditional, and professional.

Round Characters are commonly seen as charismatic, endearing, harmless, and friendly.

Triangular Characters are commonly seen as cunning, dynamic, and competent. Downward pointing triangle is especially aggressive and evil (used in many cartoon villains).

There’s also a brilliant set of designs from Geoff Wheeler that show how shaping can influence character design with the same set of features:

Brand Design Psychology

So what impact does this have on your design? As part of any good brand, you’ll know what your brand’s messaging is, and how it wants to be perceived by potential new customers. Whether you’re positioning your brand as a strong, powerful company, a kind, holistic brand, or a fast-paced, exciting organisation, you can attach these qualities subliminally into your design.

That also goes for the fonts and typefaces you use across your marketing - and it’s why these sorts of decisions have to be made carefully, considerately, and by a design team who can guide you through how your brand’s choices can alter its perception. This article by UXMovement offers a really interesting insight into how rounded corners are easier on the eye.

Amazon's New Design

And speaking of rounded corners, in the middle of last year, Amazon began experimenting with the shapes of the ‘add to cart’ and ‘buy now’ buttons on their product pages:

Changes to Amazon’s web design are few and far between, so these changes are well worth paying attention to.  

Newlee, in their analysis of the changes, delivered this conclusion:

“Amazon may be gearing up for a softer brand image. After all, the company has netted impressive gains over the course of the pandemic; others have fared poorly. While no one will stop buying from Amazon, everyone has the ability to complain about Amazon. Congress will hold more hearings. Tech companies will remain an easy target.  At least when those companies reside here, in the physical plane of existence. 

Currently, Amazon’s buttons strongly recall the real, a UX choice that aligns with current thought and best practices. There’s something mechanically satisfying about pressing them. The embedded icons signal urgency, that time is of the essence. Perhaps Amazon’s button changes are forerunners to a larger move: a move away from the messy, tangible world of supply chains and trucks and into the tame, abstract reality of information—just real enough to love, too light to hate.  One could argue that excitement and power have been traded for geniality. 

Or maybe Amazon has realized that the internet is our home now. A home, above all places, should be stress free.”


So, when it comes to working with designers, I promise you, that any designer worth their salt isn’t just there to make things look pretty. There’s a psychology behind design, even down to the smallest detail, for brands and organisations of any size. If you’re thinking about creating a new brand logo or any other projects, get in touch with us at hello@beaconagency.co.uk