When Milton Glaser, world-renown graphic designer, was asked about the success of the “I [HEART] NY” campaign (which he designed), he suggested that the subtle visual puzzle was at the root of all good designs. It seems so simple now, so obvious, as if it isn’t even a puzzle. But “I,” Glaser said, was a single-letter word; the heart symbol was an icon, a visual metaphor representing love; and “NY” was an acronym that people were required to fill out.
Since the success of that campaign in the late 1970s, graphic designers have attempted to create visual puzzles. One of the most effective ways to create visually dynamic graphics is through the use of closure, a design concept that suggests the human brain is preprogrammed to fill in gaps. If you have heard of gestalt principles, the idea is very similar. Check out these images:
What you’ll notice as you stare at each is that you are actually seeing things that aren’t really there. Or, you are seeing two things at once. There is no internal triangle in the third image at the top; there is no circle/sphere in the spiky ball on the second row; and there is no actual smiling face in the image on the bottom right. But our minds make up things and we start to envision perspectives and objects as if they were there.
But there is more to closure than simple optical illusions or interesting gestalt principles. When people view images with something not immediately obvious, or at least something that makes their brain do something new, they tend to find the design more interesting. In other words, when people are required to make sense out of visual puzzles, their intrigue increases.
Such a concept is wonderful for logo design, where designers do whatever they can to make people look just one second longer. Consider FedEx’s logo:
This is a logo that we have all seen. What is so cool about it? The arrow between the “E” and the “x”, of course. It may not be readily apparent, but the discovery of a forward arrow about a company who makes deliveries is a very cool use of negative space (design space where there isn’t any color used). Here are a few other uses of negative space that fall into the visual puzzle category:
Whether or not such logos are always useful for your brand is debatable. But there is no question that visual puzzles are more dynamic and hundreds (well, probably thousands and thousands) of companies have capitalized on the idea that closure and visual puzzles make logos more fun to look at, study, and want to figure out. You might consider thinking about how to use negative space to make your personal logo (for your resume or homepage) or your company logo more engaging.
Just for kicks, here are a few more options to peruse for your visual pleasure. It’s hard not to like the creativity in these!