In the previous series we talked about the psychology of color. How color affects us mentally and emotionally and how we can use that information to convey the message we want more accurately.
This time we’ll talk about the psychology of shape. We perceive visual elements in terms of shape. For example, an iconic house would be a square or a rectangle with a triangle on top of it. The sun would be a circle. Shapes have psychological impact as well. Using both the meaning of color and shape to your advantage will help tremendously in saying what you want to communicate visually.
Squares | Rectangles
These are the most common shapes made by us humans. We see them every day, many times a day. From buildings to TVs, monitors or cell phones, these are prevalent in our lives. Because of their straight lines and right angles, they give a sense of stability and security.
The derived meanings of these two shapes are: solidity, balance, order, strength, masculinity, stability, courage, confidence, security, discipline, reliability, dependability.
On the negative side, since they are hard and don’t flow visually, they can be associated with rigidity, stiffness and severity.
Triangles are dynamic and give a sense of motion and direction. Their lines lead your eyes you the tip. Given its dynamic shape, it can have different meanings depending on their lines and angles. They represent masculinity if they point upwards and femininity if they point down.
An equilateral triangle would be the most stable and gives a sense of balance if it points up. Anything on top of a triangle pointing up gives a sense of success, like being on top of a mountain. If it points down, it will give the opposite feeling, one of risk and tension.
The more different their lines are in length, the more energetic they feel.
So, depending on their composition, they give a sense of: balance, stability, energy, excitement, risk, tension, danger, power, motion, success, growth and vitality.
Ellipses | Circles | Ovals
The circle is considered the perfect shape. It has no beginning and no end, symbolizing eternity. That’s why rings are exchanged when people get married. Since these shapes have no visible angles, they feel soft and not rigid. Because they are smooth, they feel pleasing to the eyes. So they can be associated with more delicate, soft, happy and carefree concepts. They represent connection and community.
They are associated with space, since celestial objects like the sun, the moon, the Earth and other cosmic objects have these shapes too.
Feelings these shapes evoke include: unity, perfection, infinity, protection, eternity, reliability, femininity, magic and mystery.
These are the shapes created by nature, like a drop, a leaf, trees or flowers. Their meaning is related to what they particularly represent and their characteristics. Like a rose would symbolize love, a lion would represent bravery and power, a tree would represent protection and stability, and so on.
But in general, they give a feeling of freshness and unity with the natural environment. Some common meanings include: life, balance, freshness, originality.
They would be formed by abstract ideas, or simplified versions of organic shapes. They won’t have a clear meaning; they will only have some meaning if some of its parts resemble some of the other shapes we discussed. They are useful if you want to create contradictory feelings, for instance. In general, they are mostly used in graphic design for logos and icons, since an abstract shape that is original, can be directly associated with a brand.
Next time, we’ll talk about lines and how they affect our minds and perception. Stay tuned!
Barbara Din is a visual artist, graphic designer, painter, interior designer, crafter, musician and writer living in Argentina.