Shape associations

Visual depictions always contain the three basic shapes: circle, square and triangle. What is often overlooked is the subliminal, additional meaning that is included in these forms. It would be awkward, if you wanted to convey instability with a square. Or a hierarchical structure with a circle. Or gentleness with a triangle. The forms are not explicitly created, but often arise from the basic design of the actual content – texts and pictures. With the skillful use of these basic shapes, effects are achieved that support the actual message or attract attention through deliberate deviation.

As a start, let’s look this time at the three shapes.

  • The circle
    Without beginning and end and with no stable standing, the circle provides the feeling of harmony and infinity. Roundness can be observed in a lot of things. Starting with everyday things, such as the sun and the moon, wheels, records / CD’s / DVD’s or coins, up to the Nebra Sky Disc and the Round Table of King Arthur. The circle evenly encloses a space that creates the impression of balance and security. It is the most natural and congenial of all forms.
  • The square
    Same side lengths and angles give weight to the square. It is a special case of the quadrangle. The rectangular, equilateral rectangle is used in some special cases, e.g. at the chessboard, at dices, rarely at products, like a table or the IPOD shuffle. The calmness and objectivity that it radiates produces less tension, but the feeling of stability – at least as long as it is on one side. If it stands on the corner, it seems as unstable as a triangle. Since there are few, if any, squares in nature, it looks like the most artificial of all forms.
  • The triangle
    The sharp angles create dynamics. Triangles of all kinds can be found everywhere and provide tension. Standing on one side, it points upwards and urges caution. If it stands on a corner, it points downwards and creates an unstable impression. In any case, it is classified as active, reckless, aggressive and destructive. Triangles can be found in architecture (e.g., roofs and pyramids), in nature (e.g., in mountains and crystals), and in mathematics (e.g., for computing computer graphics). To create tension and to activate a message, the triangle is the perfect shape.

These two-dimensional forms can be modified as desired by turning or tilting them. That way the effects can be enforced or weakened.

Bottom line: Our perception notices images and ideas consciously and sub-consciously. Additionally shapes and colors are perceived that are not necessarily a designed part of the content, but nevertheless influence the impression of the viewer. The circle, the square, and the triangle have developed over time effects that should be considered. If one realizes these effects, then one can avoid unwanted shape associations or create desired effects.