Serif in Education

A hidden meaning in design

We all know of Amazon.  Extremely successful as an online retail business and the 6th most visited website worldwide according to Alexa website ranking, Amazon was established in 1995 by Jeff Bezos.  It is now a global leader in e-commerce and a Fortune 500 company based in Seattle, Washington.  Today, Amazon offers everything from books and electronics to tennis rackets and diamond jewellery from dozens of fulfilment centres and operates around the world.

The Amazon branding is essential to its success, because the “shop window” is purely online.

The Amazon logo is written text, with a yellow “smile” illustrated beneath the letters.  I am sure many of you would know this from sight. And recognise the logo immediately.  What a lot of people miss is the hidden meaning in the logo – the fact that the smile goes from the A to the Z in the word Amazon.  This highlights the fact that they sell almost anything “from A –Z”.  Clever huh?

Another clever example of branding with hidden meaning is that of The Tour De France.  Their logo contains a hidden cyclist, made by the letters “R” and “U”.  The cycle is then made out of the letter “O”.

Many businesses use hidden meanings, but what does a company get from using subliminal messages in their logo or branding, and is there any real benefit or financial gain?

According to Dr. Faten Farouk Atrees, Assistant Professor in the advertising department/faculty of applied arts at Helwan University, quite a lot it would seem.  In his research paper “The concept of subliminal messages in brand design” he examines the effect that subliminal messages have on consumers, and how people perceive these messages.

Subliminal stimuli are any sensory stimuli which are below an individual’s threshold for conscious perception.  That is, we don’t realise that this stimuli is having a conscious effect on us.

It is not a new concept, far from it, and was used by Coca Cola in 1957 in a brief hidden message “Drink Coca Cola – Eat Popcorn” in film frame at theatre in a New Jersey, which  increased popcorn sales by some 58% and Coke sales by some 18%. (Wayne Weiten, 2010).  The idea was to make consumers want to act on advertising without even realising they want.

So what does this tell us in relation to design and our pupils?  Well firstly that designers and students should be using to their advantage the endless possibility of subliminal message in brand and general design.  And that students must realise and be aware that everything they design or build has an impact – that every action or message has a consequence.  And it is not just logos or branding that have hidden messages – they are everywhere in design!

In an article written by Carrie Cousins from Design Shack, a website aimed at showcasing inspiring examples of design, she examines the hidden meaning of shapes and how they can be more than just a group of connected lines.

It can be an obvious or simple yet effective use of shapes in a design that can lead to subliminal or subconscious signals.  But each can lead to perceptions of a design which can be extreme.

Carrie Says, “When thinking about shapes, there are three categories to consider: Geometric, organic and abstract.

“Squares and rectangles are the default shape for most projects for a reason. This common shape creates a sense of equality and conformity. The familiar shape is seen as stable and trusting. The square further relates to the earth, with each of the four corners relating to the four points on a compass.

“On the flip side, because this shape is so common it can sometimes be seen as boring or plain. From business cards, to web pages to icons and photo frames, squares and rectangles appear in almost every design project. Text is also most-commonly set in a rectangular shape.  This shape is also the building block for other elements.

“Webpages are built using various combinations of rectangles are squares. So are book, newspaper and magazine pages.”

At the other end of the spectrum we have circles.  Circles can be commonly seen as buttons on websites, and more commonly in digital projects than print.

“Circles have a more trendy usage and are used more commonly in website and digital design than in print projects. Circles are most frequently used to represent things of the same shape that we know and create a sense of completeness.

“Because a circle does not have a distinct beginning or end, they imply movement (such as a wheel). The shape is thought to have a feminine association and is connected to love, energy and power. Circles also suggest infiniteness and harmony.”

So perhaps a future project for your students is to find meaning in the designs they see every day, and experiment themselves with hidden designs when producing their next piece of work.

To read the full article from Design Shack on shapes see here: