Did you know that certain shapes make us feel a certain way? Shapes with rounded edges are softer and more approachable, while shapes with sharp lines and edges, depict strength and presence.
When it comes to the use of shape in design and layout, designers use shapes to:
- symbolise ideas or concepts
- set a mood or emotion
- create a travel path for the eye around the design
- create depth or movement
- connect content and imagery in a layout
Let’s take a look at the meaning of shapes
When thinking of shapes these are the first to come to mind. They include squares, rectangles, triangles, diamonds, circles, ovals etc. These shapes are easily identified and have been given names. The shapes with straight lines and angles usually symbolise structure and order, while the shapes with curves are softer and represent connection and community.
By nature these are irregular shapes and are more often than not curved or uneven. Like most things in nature, these shapes tend to be comforting and approachable. Represented in the shapes of rocks, clouds, leaves and flowers, they are mainly nature based, but can be man made with elements such as paint blobs or free drawing that are created through spontaneity.
Abstract shapes are recognisable in form, but are essentially not real as they are simplified versions of organic shapes. To give you an example, icons are abstract shapes that represent concepts and ideas, a stick figure is an abstract shape of a person etc.
Squares and rectangles
These shapes represent stability. In fact, the rectangle is the most used area shape in logo design. The reason for its popularity is because it is a trusted familiar shape that represents honesty, solidity and stability. As squares and rectangles have straight lines and right angles they have a very mathematical, balanced feel. These shapes scream rational, practical and conformity. As far as shapes go, these are neither flashy nor attention seekers – some may even venture to say that they are boring, however clever designers may twist or turn them to add interest to a design.
All websites are made up on a grid pattern using rectangles and squares. The eye reads theses shapes easily which is why most text is contained within these shapes.
The square in Buddhism symbolises being earthbound. However, when placed inside a circle (which symbolises eternal whole) – together they represent the connection between the human and the divine.
Now triangles are an interesting shape as they can be viewed differently depending on if their sides are equal or different in length, whether they are sitting on their base or unstable when not. Triangles have energy and power associated with them as they can point out direction, depending on where their base is placed. Triangles can give a feeling of action, tension or even aggression. On the one hand, they can symbolise strength while on the other, conflict.
Triangles are seen as more of a masculine shape. Power, progression, purpose and direction are all represented by the triangle. We see triangles in pyramids and arrows, not to mention their religious connections especially to the holy trinity. Triangles are great shapes to represent The Ruler, The Explorer or The Hero brand personalities.
The triangle when balanced is the symbol for justice, science and religion.
Circles and ovals
These rounded shapes tend to send a positive emotional message of harmony and protection. The circle is often used in a logo to represent unity, commitment, love or community. Curves in general when used in shapes tend to be viewed as feminine in nature while straight lined shapes are more masculine.
Circles have no beginning or end, they represent life and the lifecycle. The circle along with the oval is readily found in nature with the sun, moon and earth, not to mention fruit and flowers.
Circles have a free sense of movement – wheels, balls, merry go rounds. Their movement may also represent power and energy. Due to their curved lines, ovals and circle are graceful and complete. They give a sense of integrity and perfection. They are not used as much in design for spacial reasons, but this means that when they are used, that they attract more attention than their right angled counter parts. Circles are great shapes to represent The Innocent, The Caregiver, The Everyman
Circles have been used for generations to represent unity. The wedding band for example is a world wide symbol of commitment for marriage.
Spirals are shapes that are most often fund in nature, from shells and snails to stars in the galaxy, water draining or dirt being whisked up by the wind. Spirals represent the notion of growth and evolution, the circles of life, seasons or time. Spirals represent transformation, fertility, life and death. They are creative and due to their curved nature also have a feminine feel. Spirals can move in clockwise of anti-clockwise directions and can take you on a journey. They are free flowing, boundless and open. The spiral is a shape that can go on for eternity
Spirals have been closely linked with mystery, mainly due to the awe inspiring spirals in the galaxy where men used to look to the stars and wonder what was beyond our horizon.
Written by branding specialist Debbie O’Connor
Consultant, Strategist, Keynote Speaker