Design 101: The Psychology of Shapes

December 22, 2016


In our last Design 101 article, we addressed color and what color can convey about your business. While personal interactions with color and cultural experiences can work to shape individual expectations about color and color meanings, color has a significant impact on branding. How? Colors tell a story about the brand’s personality. Your business has a story that differentiates it from others, and colors help support this. Along with color, there are some other factors that influence how your brand is seen by others. Shapes, for instance, are another subconscious design element that impacts the way that your business and brand is portrayed.

So what factors are affected by shapes? These are used in art and branding to:

  • Carry the eye of the viewer through different elements
  • Create movement
  • Symbolize ideas using images rather than text
  • Organize information based on how the shapes are aligned
  • Influence the moods and emotions of the viewer

Designers use shapes and the lines that create these shapes to convey specific qualities about a brand. That’s why thinking about your brand and your brand’s values before your logo can help inform your design decisions.

When it comes down to shapes, all can be classified in three different ways. Geometric shapes are the ones you may think of – think triangles, circles, rectangles, octagons, and more. These tend to have a lot of structure and symmetry related to their design. Organic shapes relate to those found in nature, such as clouds, ink blots, and leaves. These are not usually symmetrical, uneven, and represent something. Abstract shapes don’t have a solid definition, often relating to organic shapes. These are not considered to be shapes themselves, but rather different forms of other shapes.

  1. Geometric ShapesOrganic ShapesAbstract shapesRectangles & Squares: Dependability and stability are two descriptors that relate to rectangles and squares – think of street signs and buildings. There’s a solid relationship to structure when it comes to rectangles and squares.
  2. Circles & Ovals: Positive and emotional relationships, mimicking the idea of a symbolic ring are associated with these shapes. Connectivity, friendship, community, and unity are called to mind in these logos. Circles have no beginning and no end, these designs feel timeless.
  3. Triangles: The meaningful aspect of a triangle is the peak, which symbolizes elevation and greatness. By nature, triangles draw the eye in a specific direction and depending on the direction of the triangle, its meaning can change from balance to danger. Science and law are two fields that benefit from triangle shapes.
  4. Spirals: Like a snail’s shell, the spiral shape conveys a cyclical nature that also has a sense of movement. Growth and transformation are conveyed when a spiral is used.

Lines can also make an impact. Horizontal lines bring to mind calmness and tranquility while vertical lines are masculine and aggressive.

Shapes, whether explicitly or not, provide a building block for your logo and what it says about your brand. Think about the shape of your logo. What does it convey about your brand’s personality?