In the world of logo design, a shape is never just a shape. In fact, the importance of shapes is one of the reasons that logo design is both an art and a science. The shapes you choose to make up your logo can make or break your brand.
While the majority of your customers might not be aware of the psychological reactions they have to the shapes that make up their favorite logos, the effect is real. Shapes influence the way we think of brands and companies in dozens of subtle ways. Picking the right logo requires understanding the messages that shapes send and picking the best shapes to represent your brand.
The Psychology of Shapes
Let’s start by examining the psychology of shapes. Shapes play an important role in branding. If you doubt the truth of that statement, take a moment to think about how many logos you are able to recognize even without a company name – or any lettering at all.
a) The Nike swoosh
b) The Apple apple with a bite taken out of it
c) McDonald’s Golden Arches
d) The Starbucks mermaid
These logos are recognized around the world. Why? Because they use shapes wisely. Let’s break it down.
The Psychology of Circles
Circles are, by definition, inclusive. A circle has no beginning and no end. It is encompassing and also welcoming.
Culturally speaking, circles may represent marriage, commitment, community, friendship, and unity. They also represent acceptance.
Curved shapes, including circles, are also viewed as feminine in nature. Interlocking circles or rings may represent strength and solidarity.
We designed the above logo for a charity that works to destigmatize mental illness. It is a good example of the effective use of circles. It uses an overall circular shape combined with several smaller circles.
The Psychology of Squares and Rectangles
Squares and rectangles tend to be viewed as gender-neutral shapes that also convey a sense of stability and strength.
Any brand that wants to send a message of solidity and conservatism should consider using a square or rectangle in their logo. Squares also convey professionalism and efficiency, but they may be seen as somewhat boring or unimaginative, too.
Some logos that use square shapes combine them with interesting colors or other shapes to prevent them from seeming dull or unimaginative.
This logo is one we designed for a law firm. The overall shape is square and conservative, but the choice of a round and somewhat feminine font for the middle initial, and the softer italic font for the firm’s tag line, keeps the logo from seeming stodgy.
The Psychology of Triangles
Finally, the third basic logo shape is the triangle. Where circles are seen as feminine, triangles are considered to be a masculine shape.
Triangles also convey a sense of movement. They may represent energy or danger, and are often chosen to represent religion, law, or science.
Companies that choose triangles for their logos may be seen as more innovative than companies that choose squares or circles. Look at this logo we designed for a technology company:
It uses a series of interlocking triangles. The diagonal lines combined with the word “square” in the company name send a message of reliability combined with innovation.
How to Choose the Right Shapes for Your Logo
To choose the best logo shape for your company, you must think about your company and the message you want to convey. To do that, you should look at three basic considerations.
Shapes by Industry
The first consideration is your industry. Companies that are in service-oriented industries such as charity, child care, and education may choose circles because they convey warmth and inclusion. The shape underscores a company’s commitment to service.
Likewise, companies in finance, insurance, and other conservative industries are likely to choose squares or rectangles to represent themselves. The hallmark of companies in these industries is trust. Selecting squares and rectangles helps to reassure potential clients.
Triangles, as mentioned previously, are often used for religious, scientific, and legal companies. The triangle may represent tradition or innovation, and can also represent the intersection of multiple ideas or groups.
Shapes by Emotion
Feelings and emotions play an important role in branding and marketing. While we all like to believe that we make buying decisions with our logical minds, the truth is that many of those decisions come down to a feeling. For that reason, you may want to consider the emotions evoked by the shapes in your logo.
Triangles convey excitement, risk, and danger. A company that specializes in leading adventure trips or is known for its innovation might very well want to select a triangle to represent them. Triangles also have a mystical symbolism that many people associate with religion. For example, Catholic groups often use a triangle because it represents the Holy Trinity.
Circles convey comfort, love, understanding, and inclusion. They tend to send a message of compassion. It is very common for non-profit organizations, environmental companies, schools and educational companies, and companies catering to women and children to choose circles. Variations on circles, such as ovals and semi-circles, send a similar emotional message.
Squares convey discipline, strength, and courage. They may sometimes be seen as a bit boring, but customers who want strength without fear may respond very well to a square or rectangular shape. Financial institutions often choose squares, as do construction companies who want customers to feel safe and secure.
Of course, many logos combine the emotional impact of shapes. If you want to convey both inclusion and solidity, you might choose a circular shape enclosed in a square.
Internal vs. External Shapes
It’s important to think about the internal shapes in your logo as well as the overall shape when considering the emotional impact of your logo. Some logos use a combination of shapes. For example, a financial services company might use an overall square shape, but combine it with a circle if they want to appeal to families.
Likewise, a company that chooses an energetic shape like a triangle might want to temper it with a softer shape to offset the sense of danger that a triangular logo might create. There’s no hard and fast rule, but you should be thinking about the shapes you choose from various angles before you make a final decision.
Examples of Logos that Use Shapes Effectively
To finish, let’s look at a couple of logos that use shapes effectively, taking into consideration all that we’ve discussed.
This first logo is one we designed for an educational company. You may notice that the overall shape of the logo is a rectangle. As mentioned earlier, the rectangle conveys strength, solidity, and reliability.
However, this logo also uses an internal shape, a circular image of the globe that both echoes the company’s name and softens the impact of the rectangle.
The combined effect is one that represents strength and community. It sends the message that this company has a sense of tradition, but also understands that education brings people together. It’s a powerful message.
Now let’s look at another logo. This is a logo we designed for a company in the aviation industry:
This logo is interesting because it combines both masculine and feminine elements. The overall shape is a circle. Remember, that’s a feminine shape that sends a message of inclusion and warmth.
However, inside the circle is a shape that’s distinctly and even aggressively masculine. The rocket, which our designer captured blasting off, represents strength, innovation, excitement, and danger.
What is the message here? Overall, this logo highlights something that might be seen as dangerous – space flight – but combines it with the comforting circle shape. The logo demonstrates that this is a company that:
(a) Embraces innovation
(b) Takes chances
(c) Acts fearlessly
(d) Understands safety concerns
(e) Embraces a sense of inclusion
That’s a lot to get across in one logo, but you can see how the shapes – which might seem to be at odds with one another – work together to accurately represent this company’s brand and message.
As you consider your logo and make decisions about which shapes to include, keep these examples in mind. If one shape doesn’t completely suit you, ask if combining it with a second shape might be effective. And of course, you can bring other shapes into the mix as well.
Some of the more specific shapes that our designers use include:
(a) Shields, which represent safety and reliability
(b) Books, which represent knowledge and learning
(c) Clouds, which can represent the environment and also cloud storage
(d) Leaves and trees, which represent the environment and nature, as well as agriculture
This is just a small sampling, but it should help give you an idea of some of the choices that are available to you.
When you choose a logo for your company, you must be aware of the powerful impact of the shapes you choose to include. Just as the colors and fonts that make up your logo can help attract new customers, the shapes you pick can too. Working with our designers insures that you’ll end up with the best possible logo to represent your brand.