5 ways to use shape psychology in logo design

Shapes, like colours, have built-in associations that can have a significant impact on your logo designs, and make them more memorable too. From the smooth curves of McDonald’s and Nike, to the strong, stable squares of Microsoft and the BBC, to the powerful triangles of Mitsubishi or Caterpillar – even the most basic shapes can become iconic.

We’ve already explored the role colour psychology plays in branding: read on to discover how five different shapes and angles can affect a logo design…

01. Create harmony with circles

Circular shapes are organic, smooth and feminine, and help project positive emotional energy, as well as feelings of partnership and unity – not least because of their association with wedding rings.

The Olympic rings are the classic example of overlapping circles representing unity, in this case between continents

Unbroken circles are one thing, but this positivity extends into any use of flowing curves in a logo design. They can evoke dynamic movement, feel warm and comforting, or hint at the shape of a smile.

Combined with the curvy, flourishing type, Coca-Cola's distinctive swoosh is filled with dynamic, positive energy

According to Wassily Kandinsky’s theory, developed at the Bauhaus, shape is also closely associated with colour and the two form a visual language that can transcend cultural boundaries. For Kandinsky, the circle corresponds with cool, spiritual blue.

02. Establish power with triangles 

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the sharp angles in triangular shapes make for strong, masculine and powerful logo designs that are often used for scientific, religious and legal institutions.

The triangle in Delta Airlines' logo represents the 'D' in the Greek alphabet, better known as 'delta'

Diagonal lines in general can make a logo design more dynamic, energetic and lively, although if overused that energy can overshoot into associations with danger and volatility –  not attributes that many brands crave.

Red Bull is synonymous with energy and dynamism, and the bull's arched back forms a powerful triangle

According to Kandinsky’s theory, the bright, zingy sharpness of yellow complements triangles most effectively – which ties in with the shape’s naturally energetic qualities.

03. Convey stability with squares 

Compared with the dynamism of circles and curves, straight-edged shapes such as squares and rectangles are much more rigid and organised, and help convey values such as stability, trustworthiness and order.

The BBC's simple use of type set within squares feels stable, familiar and trustworthy

Square and rectangular logo designs can also communicate balance and efficiency, although if paired with dull colours run the risk of feeling cold and impersonal – so consider using bright, dynamic colours to enhance the emotional appeal of the logo.

Microsoft's rebrand by Pentagram puts reliable, efficient squares front and centre, combined with bright colours

For Kandinsky, squares are most closely associated with the colour red, because of its familiar, earthy qualities, which complement the shape’s natural stability and trustworthiness.

04. Keep it calm with horizontal lines 

The reliable right-angles found in squares and rectangles establish stability, but where only horizontal lines are used in a logo design, the effect can be calming and tranquil.

IBM's distinctive brand by Paul Rand breaks the type into horizontal bands for a calming effect, particularly when combined with tranquil blue

Horizontal lines tend to feel more level-headed, composed and trustworthy than their diagonal or vertical counterparts, and as a result can be quite a safe choice for logo designers to use.

05. Show strength with vertical lines 

By contrast, vertical lines feel stronger and more aggressive. Like square shapes, they help convey stability, professionalism and balance, but with a sharper, more competitive edge.

The vertical-striped branding for multinational technology conglomerate Cisco arguably feels more aggressive than its rival IBM

In logo design terms, this can be particularly effective in ‘masculine’ sectors in which brand rivalries abound and a strong, domineering aesthetic fits the bill. If you’re looking for a warm, friendly vibe, avoid them.

Enter your best branding to the Brand Impact Awards 

If you’ve already mastered the craft of branding, submit your best work to Computer Arts’ international awards scheme.

The Brand Impact Awards celebrate the very best branding work from all around the world. Deadline for 2017 entries is 9 June. Find out more at www.brandimpactawards.com.

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