How Psychology Research Can Help You Create Beautiful Ad Design

Drew Gorenz
February 5, 2020

Have you ever wondered what makes something beautiful? Zeroing in on this phenomenon is not only fascinating but useful for your ad design, too.

A beautifully designed ad can catch eyeballs in a Facebook feed already saturated with distractions. It can also increase users’ fondness of your brand, its products, and services. With this in mind, it’s in your best interest to put your best foot forward with every dollar you spend getting your brand in front of users.

Though beauty is a complex perceptual experience with much still to be discovered on how it works, the processing fluency theory of aesthetic pleasure sheds some light on this mystery. The main takeaway from this complex theory is that generally, the easier a visual stimulus is to process, the more viewers perceive it as beautiful.

Processing fluency is essentially the ease with which information is processed in the human mind. And high processing fluency is often experienced as subjectively positive and taken as information on whether a user likes a visual image or not.

Fortunately, there are many ways to make an image easier to process and thus make your design more beautiful.

Here are a few takeaways to keep in mind next time you work on fusing beauty into your ads:

  1. Figure-ground contrast

  2. Repeated Exposure & Prototypicality

  3. Symmetry

Figure-ground contrast

Visual stimuli are easier to process when the stimulus you’re looking at is easily distinguishable from the background, and the background holds little to no interest to the viewer.

Think portrait mode on the latest new iPhones. While this mode of photography has become popular recently, photographers have actually been using it for a long time to incite social change. Photographer Lewis Hine used this strategy in his photography in the early 1900s as a tool for social reform.

His photos were influential in pushing reform for child labor laws in the United States. These photos were used by the National Child Labor Committee’s successful lobbying in 1912 for the creation of the Children’s Bureau, and later the termination of child labor in the US in 1938 by the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Many of his photos were shot with a narrow depth of field so that a narrow part of the photo is in focus and the rest is blurred out – obscuring the background and bringing attention to the worker.

Lewis Hines child labor protest photography
Utilizing the same techniques of drawing a high contrast between your figure and your background will help you draw attention to whatever item you like whether that’s a person, product, or service.
ipod ad, man with ipod and beret dancing
Although using black or white as a background is usually a safe bet, there are other creative ways to draw a contrast between your illustrated figures and the ground. Using tools, like a Color Calculator, can help you find complementary opposite colors to your chosen hue.
Color calculator screenshot


Repeated exposure & prototypicality

The more you’ve seen a visual stimulus, the more familiar it becomes and the easier it is to process each additional time. Similarly, the more prototypical or reminiscent your visual stimulus is of the items you’ve seen before, the easier it is to process.

Take the evolution of the Puma logo for example:

Evolution of the puma logo over time

It took a few changes between 1957 to get to the Puma logo we know today. The newer puma animal shape is much easier to look at because it looks much more exemplar of the puma animal shape we know and think of (on the right), and that makes the last versions prettier and easier to process. The first version is less similar to what your mind thinks of when you call to mind a puma. And so they are less “prototypical.”

Embracing prototypicality essentially takes advantage of the existing experiences we’ve already had. If people have an existing framework that already includes part of your brand or logo, then it is much easier to add just one more part to that existing person’s framework rather than build a totally new visual preference from scratch.

Don’t believe me yet on the concept of prototypicality? There’s a good amount of research on faces that demonstrates our human preference for “averageness.” Face research shows that the composite averaging the features of individual faces is generally seen as more attractive than any individual face. Further, the more you add, the more attractive the composite face will be generally.

Evolution of a face and averageness
 There’s a fun website called that allows you to experiment by adding different faces together to find the average.
A set of photos illustrating the averageness of faces
Whether you’re using an animal or fruit, you’ll definitely want to consider what the “prototypical” version looks like if you’re using it in your design.
Puma logo
apple logo


There’s a reason people bring up symmetry so much when they speak about a beautiful celebrity’s face. And there’s a reason so many brand logos utilize symmetry. Symmetrical stimuli are easier to process!

Denzel Washington symmetrical face
Denzel Washington’s beauty, for example, is rumored to be linked to his nearly perfectly proportioned face. When one half of a visual stimulus mirrors the other half, your mind essentially only has to do half the work to understand a visual item with symmetry. There are multiple ways to create symmetry whether you’re defining that across a horizontal, vertical or radial line.
Starbucks logo
Master card logo

Now that you know these tips, you’re half of the way to creating a beautiful design that can grab attention and a positive association between your brand and the public. Follow these tips and you are sure to up your ad design game and make the most of your ad dollars.

Looking for ways to elevate your ad copy? Check out our blog post 5 Ways To Spice Up Your Business’ Facebook Ad Copy

Need a group of experts to take your digital presence to the next level? Request an audit and contact us! We love to help!

Drew Gorenz
Senior Analyst, Search & Social Advertising

Drew Gorenz is a Northwestern University graduate who loves any Northwestern-related sport. He wishes he could do a spontaneous spit take. Drew’s favorite drinks are absinthe or water. One day he might be able to do a spit take with absinthe.

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