Visual analysis guide
for graphic designers

2. Emotional Effect and Expression

Chapter by Isabell Drauz and Xhois Qarri

Emotions are of course very subjective. They are influenced by experiences and psychological states. Anyway, we want to try getting some emotional responses from people, maybe they are not so inexplicable. However, we must always be aware that the results are debatable. More precisely, in this chapter, we’ll try to understand how a graphic visual can affect people’s moods and emotions and see their reactions in immediate responses.

What are we interested in?

1. How does the graphic design affect us?

A graphic design has the power to affect us, be it big or small. There must be an emotional response. A striking example is a design that depicts a person that is in bad condition. That might make us sad because we don’t like people being hurt. We can study this aspect with an “Affect Grid”, which is explained later. Mostly, however, a graphic design does not do much with us. We are emotionally rather indifferent towards it.

2. How does the graphic design express itself to us?

In comparison to the first question, we ask for the emotional state that the graphic design has. Rather than saying “It makes us sad” we may say “It looks sad”. This can be studied with a “Semantic Differential”.

How can we study this?

Emotions are hard to assess. They are subjective and vague. The proposed tools help participants to give spontaneous and immediate responses.

Affect Grid (How does it affect us?)

The affect grid is a two-dimensional scale:

As the audience only looks at the design for some seconds, we hope that the reaction it has is impulsive/instinctive.

Affect Grid Example. People indicate how they feel by ticking a square. In this case, the participant is rather excited and has pleasant feelings. Grid from Russell, Weiss and Mendelsohn (1989).

Semantic Differential (How it expresses itself to us?)

Our semantic differential

A semantic differential (Osgood, Suci & Tannenbaum, 1967) consists of two opposing properties and the range between then. So that people can easily situate their evaluation of something. To evaluate a graphic design, these pairs should be included in 4 categories: visual aspect, tangibility, embodiness, sympathy which are connected with basic and abstract sensations. For ex. the audience should decide on the range between 'hot___cold'.

What did we find out?

Affect Grid

We asked 18 people to fill out two Affect Grids. One to assess their current mood. And another after seeing the design for some seconds using the tachistoscope again.

Mood of people before showing them the design
The answers are all over the place. People are on their current moods which means that people feel different.
Mood of people after showing them the design
You can clearly distinguish the cluster being formed on the top right of the affect grid. Does it mean that people are affected by the design in a positive way? That they are pleased and more excited?

We have to be very careful with our conclusions here! First, people might answer how they liked the artwork and not how they actually feel. These affects do not last long. As soon as people think about their feelings they might search for a suitable assessment. This is what we do not want, but it will happen …

So, anyway, at least there is a tendency.

Let’s not forget: this is what people looked at. Will it make you feel more excited and happy?

Semantic Differential

We constructed our differential by choosing perceivable qualities and finding higher level semantic qualities:

Semantic Differential with permutated results

We did not present the pairing in this order, indeed, after doing this survey, we permutated the differential. The majority do connect colorfulness with feeling lively. The animation part might be a reason that people thought it was childish and playful.

The pairing between straight and chaotic was a little bit confusing to people. Maybe they didn’t understand exactly what it meant so they decided to fill in the middle square which is neutral.

The rest would be in harmony with each other. However, this can be used as an example to choose the labels better next time. Because the audience are not 100% designers or they don't connect the words to the design, it is necessary to choose easier and simpler words in order to get a better reaction.

What do the results mean?

It’s understandable that emotions are a hard topic to talk about. They can touch delicate matters and generate unpredictable reactions from people. In these experiments, we wanted to see immediate reactions, that can be called micro-emotions or just first impressions. Maybe even call them instinctive as well, because they come immediately from our previous knowledge and are not really analysed thoughts or emotions.