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Tight Cultures Prefer Tight Logos: Semiotics of Space Differs across Cultures
Presented by Dr. Tanvi Gupta, Indian Institute of Management Udaipur, India.
Is space always good in logo design? Does the symbolic meaning of empty space differ across cultures? This webinar will present the findings of an academic research project—recently published in the Journal of Consumer Research—showing how compact logos signal product safety, especially in tight cultures. We analysed over 600 brand logos and ran a series of experiments and digital campaigns to understand the semiotic function of empty space across tight and loose cultures. This presentation will be relevant to researchers and designers who are interested in cross-cultural psychology and visual semiotics.
Safe Together, Vulnerable Apart:
How Interstitial Space in Text Logos Impacts Brand
Attitudes in Tight versus Loose Cultures
Forthcoming at Journal of Consumer Research (JCR)
Logos are carriers of brand meaning
• Logos are the most salient elements of a brand’s visual
identity (Walsh, Page Winterich, & Mittal, 2010)
• Companies spend millions of dollars to arrive at the
right design for their logo (Davies & Paterson, 2000).
• One of the goals of visual branding is to establish and
enhance specific brand associations.
Design features that cue brand reliability
Fajardo, et al. 2016)
Stable centre of gravity
(Rahinel & Nelson 2016)
Signaling brand reliability is an important goal of visual branding.
Compact vs. Spacious
A primal discomfort with empty
space based on Aristotle's idea that
"nature abhors an empty space."
Fear of empty spaces
Worship of empty spaces
Civilized societies (higher classes)
Empty space serves as a mark of
distinction and good taste – created
through the civilization process
HORROR VACUI AMOR VACUI
Consumer response to visual space
White space in advertising
= prestige, ease of processing
(Pieters, et al. 2007, 2010; Pracejus, et al. 2006, 2013)
Interstitial space in product
displays = aesthetic appeal, and
prestige (Sevilla and Townsend 2016)
IN RETAIL STORES
Functions of Space
Space as Capital
Space as Emptiness
Signals prestige (Pracejus, et al. 2006, 2013; Sevilla & Townsend 2016)
Ease of processing (Pieters, et al. 2007, 2010)
in advertising and retail
Space as Separation HORROR VACUI
Signals vulnerability (This paper)
Design elements as abstractions of physical experiences
Perceptual forces are counterpart of physical forces (Gestalt theory: Arnheim 1974)
Visual characteristics of design elements can inform judgments in ways consistent with physical laws.
People prefer visual designs of
a curved (rather than angular)
nature, since sharp contours in
physical objects convey a
sense of threat
(Bar and Neta 2006, 2007)
Products with a product image
lower (vs. higher) on the package
facade were estimated to be
heavier in weight because gravity
pulls heavy objects to the ground
(Deng and Kahn 2009).
In everyday life, people use metaphors
that tap into concrete physical
experiences to describe their abstract
(Lakoff & Johnson 1980)
Conceptual Metaphor Theory
Powerful brands – Logo High (Sundar and
Antique vs Modern
English vs Hebrew
(Chae and Hoegg 2013)
Verticality = Power Left/Right = Past/ Future
(Jiang, et al. 2015)
Some more examples of visual metaphors
Proximity is strength (separation is vulnerability)
Interstitial Space as Separation
Cultural Tightness – Looseness (TL): A Social Adaptation to Threats
• Tight (loose) cultures have many (few) strongly enforced social
norms and little (much) tolerance for deviance (Gelfand et al. 2011)
• Cultural tightness has evolved as a social adaptation to
chronic ecological and territorial threats, contributing to
chronic states of high perceived risk and need for structure
through tight social-systems.
• TL at different levels, e.g., state(Harrington and Gelfand 2014), industry(Lin et
al. 2017), organization(Aktas et al. 2016), individual(Gelfand et al. 2011)
Social tightness ßà Visual tightness
Cultural tightness – looseness
(Operationalized via geographical region,
organizational culture, or individual trait)
Note: Tested with five studies, including an archival dataset analysis, three experiments, and a field study
Compact vs. Spacious Brand Logos in the Marketplace
• Dataset with almost 700 top US national brands across 16 product categories, with Young
and Rubicam’s Brand Asset Valuator variables and survey of over 4,700 consumers
(Lovett, Peres, and Shachar 2014)
• We found, downloaded, and coded images of all logos.
Inter-coder reliability was significant (Kappa coefficient = .82).
• IV: compact vs. intermediate vs. spacious logo
• DV: Brand preference (single measure)
• Mediator: Product safety (reliable, secure, trustworthy; α = .74)
Examples of spacious logos from the dataset
ANOVA: F(2, 551) = 12.33, p < .001
IE= -4.17 (CI95= -6.0673, -2.4423)
Mediation (PROCESS Model 4):
Spacious logos reduce brand preference, mediated by perceived brand reliability.
Study 2: Regional Tightness – Looseness
• 2 (logo: compact vs. spacious) x 2 (culture: tight vs. loose)
Study 3: Individual Tightness – Looseness
• 2 (logo: compact vs. spacious) x
2 (culture: tight vs. loose)
Study 4: Field Experiment - Google Display Campaign
DV: Click-through-rate (CTR) from 11,584 impressions
Each impression was converted into a binary data point.
2 (logo: compact vs. spacious) x 2 (culture: tight vs. loose) x 2 (ad placement: none vs. safety) between-subjects design
Two versions of a website logo TL manipulated via geographic
targeting of US states
Ad placement manipulated
via topics (e.g., insurance,
Study 5: Replicate three-way effect with controlled experiment
2 (logo: compact vs. spacious) x 2 (culture: tight vs. loose) x 2 (product framing: control vs. safety) between-subjects
Cultural Tightness CultureàAesthetics
Logo design Brand reliability cues
Conceptual metaphor of “Proximity is strength”
Digital method for visual aesthetics