While brainstorming an idea for this blog, one of my Stryvers colleagues said, "I've always wondered about the psychology behind different shapes and why designers choose them."
It got me thinking. Why do I gravitate towards a circle for one logo and a square for another? Why do rounded corners make sense for one brand's website, but feel totally out of place for another? Much depends on the brand's target market, its subject matter, and just what it looks and feels like. Other times it’s more about what looks best. But are these just arbitrary rules that I learned in design school? Or is there a real psychology behind these choices?
Whether you're trying to craft the next big logo or just getting more clicks on your ads, shapes can communicate a lot more than you think.
Squares and rectangles
What things come to mind when you think about structure and safety? You probably conjure up images of things like buildings, safes, and vaults. Squares and rectangles are very popular in design for this reason. Simply put, straight lines and right angles give a feeling of reliability and confidence because we associate them with reliable and trustworthy objects. This makes squares and rectangles an obvious choice when designing a logo. You will be hard pressed to find a company that doesn't want to appear so solid and reliable.
Squares, on the other hand, run the risk of looking outdated and boring due to their simplicity. But that's nothing a little bit of color theory, typography, and creative thinking can't solve.
The objects that a circle can represent are almost limitless; a bullet, the sun, a person's face, etc. Its recognizable shape is what makes the circle easy to use in design, but it's the emotional associations of people that make circles a smart shape to use in design.
Circles appear softer and more welcoming than angular shapes like triangles and squares. In fact, illustrators constantly use this logic when creating adorable characters. This makes it a great choice for brands looking to appear so user-friendly and accessible.
Commitment and unity are also represented by circles because of their infinite shape and their association with covenants. Their lack of beginning and end also gives an impression of movement or energy.
If circles can add movement to the design, triangles add it by ten. The shape itself literally has a point that the human eye cannot help but be drawn to. Our eyes naturally want to follow triangles from their wide base to their pointed end, which makes them the perfect shape to add direction to a design.
One of the most interesting things about this shape is how the feelings it evokes can change dramatically depending on the orientation. A vertical triangle gives off feelings of balance, stability and growth. A downward-facing triangle can communicate risk and negativity, while a right-facing triangle gives a sense of forward momentum.
Sometimes geometric shapes don't cut it. The term "organic form" is used to describe natural forms that cannot be made. This includes things like leaves, animals and anything in the environment. By being easily identifiable, these shapes can provide a sense of warmth and comfort with the associations of their actual subject.
When using an organic shape in your design, it's important to choose one that resonates with your brand's message and values. Take the Gatorade logo for example. The lightning symbolizes the energy that their drinks provide to their customers.
On the other hand, organic forms can also be used literally. Companies like Shell and Apple are directly inspired by their names for their logos.
These theories can be applied to virtually any area of art and design, including logos, user interface, and even photography. So the next time you're faced with a design challenge, use a little psychology to support your thinking. When you are undoubtedly asked the dreaded "why" question, you'll have a ready-made answer.