Shape Psychology: What It Is And How It Is Applied In Graphic Design
The psychology of form is directly related to that demonstrated under the Gestalt theory. Both disciplines studied shapes and how they directly affect human perception.
Combining shapes with other visual elements that are part of our composition can help us to reflect a message more clearly. The human mind can be somewhat unpredictable, and perception plays a key role in the success of a visual composition.
That is why it is important that we can take advantage of psychology and the study of perception in graphic design to better focus our message. At least at a very basic level.
In today's article, I would like to delve into the psychology of forms and how they can guide graphic designers throughout the creative process, creating a better user experience. More information you can find at https://www.paperhelp.org/.
What is shapes psychology?
Shape psychology is the discipline that studies the influence that shapes have on people. It suggests that each shape can be attributed to a set of meanings or concepts because they directly impact our awareness and behavior.
We know that perceiving and analyzing each visual element in terms of form is possible. For example, the sun is often interpreted as a circle surrounded by straight lines that symbolize the sun and its rays. We also know that a triangle can symbolize caution, but do you know why? Why don't we associate caution with another shape, such as a circle or a square?
Sometimes people are not aware of the shapes and forms that surround us, but the truth is that shapes can greatly impact our consciousness.
The psychology of shape supports that each shape has its own meaning and can affect our minds differently. Even some psychological tests use shapes to "define the personality" or mental condition of an individual. It is believed that your favorite figure or selecting a shape quickly could inform about some deep traits of your personality.
Many years of research have ended up helping professionals define the meaning that each shape evokes in us and how shape can influence human perception.
Shape psychology and the meaning of geometric shapes
When the word shape is mentioned to you, most people will think of geometric shapes, not especially organic shapes. Suppose you want to expand your knowledge about the different visual elements of graphic design. In that case, I have an article where I develop it in detail: The seven key visual elements of graphic design.
Let's learn a little more about the meaning that each geometric figure evokes according to the psychology of form.
Square (and rectangle)
The square and the rectangle are two of the shapes we often see in our day-to-day lives. Think about the walls of your house, furniture, books, and your smartphone screen.
The lines and right angles of squares produce a sense of robustness that evokes reliability and security.
Do you have paper and pencil handy? Go ahead, take 30 seconds and draw on paper a building before reading on.
What is the predominant shape in your drawing? I'm sure you have drawn it with a rectangular shape. It is believed that in addition to their shape, we also commonly associate squares with buildings because this association helps to bring a feeling of authority, reliability, and trustworthiness.
Some common meanings of square and rectangular shapes would be discipline, strength, solidity, order, masculinity, stability, confidence, courage, security, and reliability.
The triangle is a dynamic, strong, and energetic shape associated with movement and direction. It can also be related to hierarchy or divinity. Depending on the triangle's orientation, its lateral lines can contribute to moving our eye towards the tip.
Since the triangle is a very dynamic shape, it can also have different meanings depending on its arrangement. For example, a vertical triangle can evoke feelings of stability and balance. On the other hand, an inverted triangle will evoke risk and caution, as it will give us the feeling that it is about to fall, causing a sense of tension.
Now you can say that you know why the triangle symbolizes caution.
Some common meanings of triangular shapes would be: excitement, power, advancement, vitality, growth, direction, risk, danger, and balance.
Circles (and ellipses)
As it has no beginning and no end, the circle shape is associated with eternity. It is also related to the sun, the moon, the earth, and the concept of unity.
Oval or round shapes, lacking angles or peaks, evoke more empathic and closer emotions. They are therefore emotionally more positive and less cold than rectangular shapes.
Some common meanings of oval shapes and circles would be: adaptability, unity, movement, globality, perfection, infinity, protection, reliability, eternity, and feminism.
Although lines help to delimit shapes, they can also help to evoke certain concepts or emotions when grouped together.
For example, diagonal lines evoke movement, dynamism, speed, and a slight sense of strength or tension.
If the lines are in a horizontal position, they will evoke tranquility, reliability, confidence, and a sense of peace.
Lines in a vertical position have a more energetic position that can help to draw more attention and dominate the composition. They will evoke balance, hierarchy, or efficiency.
Some common meanings of straight lines would be: union, link, communication, relationship, dynamism, and coordination.
The shape of spirals is quite present in nature. If you remember, I mentioned it previously when we talked about the golden ratio or the golden spiral.
That is why spiral shapes are also associated with growth, life (birth and death), or evolution. In some cultures, spirals can also represent knowledge.
Some common meanings of spiral shapes would be: growth, creativity, continuity, illusion, calm, intelligence, energy, vitality, and imagination.
Cross shapes are associated with balance, hope, and divinity. They can also be interpreted as a crossing point of energies. They are used to suggest life and health, unity, hope, relationships, balance, and spirituality.
Other Shapes: Organic And Abstract
Organic shapes are those conceived as natural forms. Think of all the shapes created by nature, such as the shape of a drop, a leaf, or flowers.
These are shapes that have served as inspiration for artists and designers. Natural shapes have clear meanings of the plants and animals they symbolize. They often bring a sense of freshness and unity with the natural environment.
Animals and plants also have their own meanings if we use them as clear symbols. For example, a rose can symbolize love, while a lion is a symbol of pride and bravery, but this would be another topic to discuss in a new article.
Some common meanings of organic shapes could be: originality, organic, balance, and freshness.
Shapes that are visual manifestations or symbols of abstract concepts or ideas are referred to as abstract shapes.
Some abstract forms may end up being difficult to recognize. After being synthesized, they may give only small clues as to what they represent. Often abstract shapes represent a single concept or a simplified version of an organic form.
Abstract shapes are quite often used in logo design, iconography, or signage, sometimes with the help of negative space. Abstract shapes are a very effective way to convey a message without text.
How to use the psychology of form in graphic design
We already know that shapes are key visual elements in graphic design. They can help us to make a visual composition, structure information, or relate other elements. If we want to make a more sophisticated design, we must take into consideration the meanings of shapes.
Graphic designers are visual communicators. We communicate through images by designing compositions with meaning. Some of the compositions that can make the best use of shapes would be, for example, the design of logos, icons, or typographies.
However, the psychology of form is also frequently used in other fields of graphic design, such as editorial design or web usability. Design elements can be structured in certain ways to guide the user's eyes to easily find the most important information.
They, therefore, help us to establish a correct visual hierarchy.
Psychology of form and logo design
The functionality of a logo can often be linked to the way people perceive it. There are many factors that can influence human perception.
A logo is a key tool for any company. It must contribute to transmit (and evoke) a message or meaning according to the brand. If we choose well the shapes for the design of a logo, we will contribute to transmit the desired feeling without resorting to text or additional information.
For example, let us imagine that we need to develop a logo for a banking entity. Perhaps a positive approach could be to try to apply in the logo design the use of some shape that transmits confidence and security. Yes, if you are valuing the square, you are reasoning correctly.
Of course, the psychology of shapes can be very useful not only to create logos that contribute to highlight what we want to communicate, but also for the rest of graphic design compositions.
Shape psychology and typography
The psychology of form plays a very important role in typography as well. We have already seen that there are countless different typefaces, and we classify them by their shape in 4 large groups: serif typefaces, dry stick typefaces, handwritten typefaces and decorative typefaces.
To better understand the personality of typography or typographic psychology, it is necessary to study the shape of its characters. Assess whether they have more geometric or perhaps more organic shapes. If they have more straight and pointed shapes, such as those we can find in a dry stick typeface, or perhaps more curved and smooth, such as those we can find in a handwritten typeface.
Typefaces containing dominant characters with more rounded and curved shapes can evoke something more of closeness and also femininity. Unlike characters with straighter shapes and angles that can evoke more formality and sometimes some aggressiveness.
That is why it is key that we always pay attention to the dominant shapes of any typeface. This way we will be able to select a typography that favors the context of our message and visual communication.