The Psychology of Shapes in Logo Design
It’s no secret that a formidable company identity and the process of branding begins with a strong logo design. Creating a brand mark may seem simple, but there are several factors that accompany a successful logo design. Often, we pay close attention to some of the components—such as colors and fonts—but we ignore crucial aspects, namely, the shapes that make up a design.
Logo shapes are the building blocks of any design, forming the basis of icons either by how they’re combined or as the image behind a logo. Our brains are wired to pick out shapes and memorize them easily as a way of learning new things. Thus, memorable and bold shapes are easier to recall, and leave a more lasting impact.
When you build a design, a logo shape can help forge a clearer emotional and psychological connection between your brand and consumers. Thus, it’s important to understand what each shape says about your brand and comprehend how you can effectively incorporate them in your design.
Though they’re not the most popular shape, circles are a symbol of stability and collaboration. Logos that use rings are designed to be welcoming, positive, and focused on a message of unity. The Olympic rings are a perfect example of circular logos, and they stand for cooperation, unity, and friendship.
Circles are also a sign of continuity and perseverance. The imagery is commonly associated with time, planets (or the sun), and more. Moreover, they can help convey a sense of femininity—as do many other curved shapes—and give an air of mystery. Because they tend to be less common in everyday life, circles are also great ways to draw attention.
For a more aggressive design, squares and rectangles deliver a combination of boldness and balance. Rectangles are often seen as a sign of security and confidence considering they are associated with objects like homes, safes, and boxes where things are kept. Additionally, the straight lines and angles represent a sense of order and professionalism, and are excellent for inspiring a sense of strength and stability.
Companies like Microsoft and American Express, for instance, use squares heavily in their logo designs to impart a sense of order and confidence in their brands. Microsoft’s new square design focuses on pushing the company’s approach as a more dynamic and “edgy” design, while in American Express’ case, it is used to convey a sense of stability and order when combined with its color scheme.
Much like their square counterparts, triangles stand out for their combination of straight lines and sharp angles. They also convey some of the same emotions and ideas. However, where squares are all about order and stability, triangles transmit power, strength, energy, and more. In addition, triangles are considered edgy, and are many times employed in logos for “alternative” lifestyle products and more adventurous companies.
Interestingly, triangle logos are increasingly popular in two very disparate fields—science and religion. Their association with power and masculine appearance makes them excellent for these two sectors as well as industries like law and male-oriented consumer demographics.
Even the angle on which a triangle is placed can communicate different viewpoints. A shape that lies on its base can show strength and stability. However, placing it on a tilt can convey a sense of tension, dynamism, and instability.
Like the horizon or the sight of firm land, horizontal lines are a grounding influence on a brand. For most people, horizontal lines represent a sense of stability and calm. Organizations which wish to appeal to the feminine side will often use horizontal lines as part of their designs, incorporating a softening effect on otherwise bold and angular designs.
Horizontal lines can also represent dynamism and movement. For example, delivery companies may add horizontal lines to their logos to convey a sense of motion and speed. By using layers of horizontal lines, companies can create a sense of calm and tranquility, as well as an image of community. AT&T’s logo, for instance, uses horizontal lines to create a globe that communicates interconnectedness.
Whereas horizontal lines tend to be related to calm, tranquility, and femininity, vertical lines communicate strength, power, and masculinity. Logos that use vertical lines prominently are bold and display a sense of strength and stability mixed in with a more aggressive approach. They’re also excellent for exhibiting an image of efficiency and reliability
Companies that want to seem forward-looking and bold use straight lines as a way of framing their designs with stable elements. Vertical lines are also versatile, as they can represent everything from the walls of a building to the edges of a rocket, and even create larger images when layered properly. It’s important to be careful when using vertical lines, as too many can make a brand seem domineering and overly aggressive.
Unlike other shapes that have defined edges and characteristics, organic shaped logos are meant to imitate the naturally occurring geometry of the real-world. These organic logos are not as defined as geometric shapes, but they do draw upon different figures to create a more unique product.
Because they are usually created specifically for a brand, these organic shapes are more flexible in what they convey, and they can accomplish this feat more directly than a square or a circle might. In many cases, these logos are meant to communicate a sense of comfort and familiarity, as well as more intimate knowledge of a company’s identity. Gatorade, for instance, uses a lightning shape that conveys the company’s energetic image.
Seeing as these logos are more specialized, it’s important to consider exactly what you want them to say to avoid creating a shape that loses some of its impact and ultimately harms your brand.
Curves are an excellent way to add a feeling of motion and rhythm to a logo design. Unlike straight horizontal or vertical lines, curves are all about movement, happiness, and positive emotion. They are more appropriate in logos and brands that are about connecting less to the business world and more focused on building a personal link.
Moreover, curves tend to be viewed as feminine, making them an ideal addition to a logo aimed at a female demographic. Companies with a brand that reflects feelings of happiness and joy would be well suited for curved logos. Two of the most famous logos in the world, Coca Cola and Disney use curve to convey the their joyful brand personas.
They may be an uncommon design element, but spirals provide a unique twist and can make a logo more interesting. Spirals are a useful visual tool and they can feel hypnotic, calming, and even flowing. In many cases, spiral shapes are used to represent a flow—of energy, time, love—as well as a slowly building strategy.
Perhaps more importantly, spirals are a great strategy for showing off your company’s creativity, penchant for being different, and thinking outside the box. Companies that wish to communicate their growth and evolution can also use spirals to symbolize their every-changing nature.
Taking advantage of the psychology of logo shapes goes further than simply stuffing your design with shapes you think may fit your brand. Before starting a new design project, the first step should be to consider your brand’s values and most relevant characteristics. Once you have these written down, it’s important to consider not just the shapes that represent these attributes best, but also how shapes can be combined to create something greater than its parts.
You can even use concepts from Gestalt theory, created by German psychologists, which holds that people tend to see collections of shapes and objects as a unified whole instead of as single parts. Spirals and squares may each convey something important about your company, but they may not appear cohesive when pasted together on the page.
Therefore, while vastly different shapes may communicate specific values, it is always more important to have a logo design that flows properly. Thus, merging disparate shapes, even if they are individually useful, may harm you more than building a logo that fits together harmoniously.
The best logos are those that manage to create a timeless design that is more than the sum of its parts. Combining all the aspects of a good logo—colors, fonts, and shapes—can deliver a final product that will convey your brand’s personality and values while also leaving a noteworthy impression on anyone that views it.
Choosing the right shapes to form your logo design represents a vital step during the creative process as it lays the foundation for your brand’s messaging. Determining how these shapes will fit into your logo is crucial because it will ultimately help your brand maximize its potential impact.