The Psychology of Shapes
The Psychology of Shapes

When you strip down design almost everything can be broken down into 4 basic shapes. Square. Circle. Triangle. Organic. 

Layout, Logo’s, Photography, Typography, Infographics (everything really) all fall into these 4 primitive shapes to tell a story and set the tone of your brands voice. 

Each of these shapes has a powerful subconscious meaning of their own so consciously choosing a fundamental shape to speak your brand values at the beginning of building your identity goes a long way into how you want to be seen by your customers. 

I’ll cover the meaning of each shape over the series but first look at your own design assets, logo’s, layouts, websites and break it down to basics. Are you more Square, Circular, Triangular or Organic. Did you consciously choose your fundamental shape. Maybe your a mish-mash of conflicting shapes? 

The idea here is to be consistent and use a shape that speaks your core values to your potential customers through everything you do.

 

The Square 

Easily the most popular and uncontested of the primitives is the square. An undisputed heavyweight but like anything it has it’s Achilles heel. 

In the inherent “boxy” nature of digital UI layout, it can’t be avoided, even the viewport into the digital world is through the square. It’s practical and functional and pillar of strength and considered a strong masculine form. 

Subconsciously the Square speaks the values of trust, order, honesty, safety, professionalism, strength and organisation. So how could you go wrong with that? Well it’s great for some industries but not all. Insurance, Law, Medical and Financial industries would naturally gravitate towards the voice of the square. Would I pick the square to come and bat for an Xtreme Sports or Eco-Friendly project? Probably not. 

In the digital design world when it’s all too easy to get “boxy” the square does run the risk of being conservative, boring, overused & same-samey. 

Unlike any other primitive the square is insidious, you’re going to be using it anyway. The square doesn’t say, “hey look at me I’m a dynamic magical unicorn”, it says “Trust me, I’m legit” in a convincing voice & that is it’s super power.

 

The Circle 

Over the square the Circle has a more feminine nature. Community, unity, harmony, comfort and positive energies are the voice of the circle. The Olympic rings represent great use of the circle embodying people coming together and uniting in harmony. It’s flowing dynamic nature like in the CocaCola logo has your eye skipping from one letter to the next. 

The circle is a master of creating dynamic movement. It speaks energy, “lets do something new”, “lets do something together”. Circles convey strength, looking at its form there are no seams, angles or structural points of weakness instilling a value of reliability and completion. 

Think here how many car brands wrap there brand in an oval protective shield conveying reliability and safety. The circle speaks of an all inclusive community, even on Linkedin our profile pics all render in a circle. 

Look to the circle when you want to create a community, dynamism and the feeling of a transparent joint venture between you & your customers.

 

The Triangle 

The triangle has a visionary leaders voice. Directive and hierarchical, the triangle demands attention! It has a much more powerful dynamic message of doing, uniqueness, creativity, movement, advancement, direction and change than the other shapes. 

With its roots steeped in mysticism and futurism (think the pyramids, spiritual art and science fiction movies ) the humble and lesser used triangle is much more intrepid than any of its rivals. 

In layout design the triangle is a master of directing awareness, effortlessly moving the eye from one feature to the next, telling us when to start something, or move backward or forwards. Captain Triangle is designs navigator of the high seas! 

The triangle is also a good metaphor for improvement and advancement, it says where going places, I’m an explorer, I don’t sit on my laurels. I’m progressive, a maverick with X factor is the tone of the triangle. 

If your in scientific, construction, transport, SaaS, AI, robotics or any cutting edge industry the triangle should be high on your dance card as the cornerstone to your brands identity.

 

The Organic 

Everything occurring naturally has its own organic shape, whether is a leaf a lion a spiral or a helix they all fit under the wide category of organic. 

Sometimes symmetrical others asymmetrical, it gives designers a lot to draw inspiration from with the metaphorical meanings we have attached to them. For example a heart could be used as the symbol of love and a lion for pride. 

Organic shapes have a softer voice, instilling something warm & familiar. Harmonious, organic, balanced & alive are the values of organic shapes. We connect with and understand their greater meaning instinctively from a human perspective & we relate to these objects as a sign post to a something with a deeper meaning. Using organic shapes we can connect deeper, be more specific & emotive with our audience than with the 3 basic primitives. 

Organic themes can exits in a logo right through all design elements to create a fresh cohesive design. These designs allow for more originality where a softer voice is more convincing. 

For natural eco-friendly, sustainable, earth conscious & forward thinking brands starting with an organic shape foundation for your identity could be the key to your audience.

 

Summary 

Being conscious of all our design decisions is foundational to how we want to be seen by our customers. 

Picking a design primitive to express those values is a key starting point for any visual design process. As humans we have an underlying blueprint for how we perceive the world around us. Psychology allows us define this blueprint. 

Any good designer will have one foot planted firmly in psychology, user interaction and product design. Understanding the psychology behind human behaviour and perception allows us to design more human centered, intuitive products and experiences that resonate with our customers and align the brands values with its audiences values. 

Take a look at your design themes & assets. Were they chosen conciously with a supporting rational, are they inline with your brands current values and message?