Saturday, February 24

Psychology of form: 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 forms and how they directly affect human perception.

Combining shapes with other visual elements that are part of our composition can help us 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 on a very basic level.

In today’s article I would like to delve into the psychology of shapes and how they can guide graphic designers through the creative process, creating a better user experience. More information can be found at

What is the psychology of forms?

The psychology of form is the discipline that studies the influence of forms on people. It suggests that each shape can be attributed to a set of meanings or concepts because they directly impact our consciousness and behavior.

We know that it is possible to perceive and analyze each visual element in terms of form. For example, the sun is often interpreted as a circle surrounded by straight lines symbolizing 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, like a circle or a square?

Sometimes people are not aware of the shapes and forms around us, but the truth is that shapes can have a huge impact on our consciousness.

Shape psychology holds that each shape has its own meaning and can affect our minds differently. Even some psychological tests use forms to “define the personality” or the mental condition of an individual. It is believed that your favorite figure or quickly selecting a shape could tell about some deep traits of your personality.

Many years of research have ended up helping professionals to define the meaning that each form evokes in us and how the form can influence human perception.

Psychology of form and the meaning of geometric shapes

When the word shape is mentioned to them, 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 break it down 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.

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Square (and rectangle)

The square and the rectangle are two of the shapes that we usually see in our day to day. Think of the walls of your house, the furniture, the books and the screen of your smartphone.

The lines and right angles of the 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 a building on paper before reading on.

What is the predominant shape in your drawing? Surely you have drawn it with a rectangular shape. It is believed that in addition to their shape, we also commonly associate plazas with buildings because this association helps generate a feeling of authority, trustworthiness, and trustworthiness.

Some common meanings of square and rectangular shapes would be discipline, strength, solidity, order, masculinity, stability, confidence, courage, security, and dependability.


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 orientation of the triangle, 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, an upright triangle can evoke feelings of stability and balance. On the other hand, an inverted triangle will evoke risk and caution, since it will give us the feeling that it is about to fall, causing a feeling 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)

Since it has no beginning or end, the circular 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 empathetic and close 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.

Straight lines

Although lines help delimit shapes, they can also help evoke certain concepts or emotions when grouped together.

For example, diagonal lines evoke movement, dynamism, speed, and a slight sense of force or tension.

If the lines are horizontal, they will evoke tranquility, reliability, trust, and a sense of peace.

Vertical lines have a more energetic position that can help draw more attention and dominate the composition. They will evoke balance, hierarchy or efficiency.

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Some common meanings of a straight line would be: union, link, communication, relationship, dynamism and coordination.


The form of spirals is quite present in nature. If you remember, I mentioned it earlier when we were talking 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.


The crossed 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 forms: organic and abstract

organic forms

Organic forms 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 inspired artists and designers. Natural forms have clear meanings from the plants and animals they symbolize. They often bring a feeling 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 deal with in a new article.

Some common meanings of organic shapes could be: originality, organic, balance and freshness.

abstract shapes

Shapes that are visual manifestations or symbols of abstract concepts or ideas are called abstract shapes.

Some abstract shapes can be difficult to recognize. After being synthesized, they can give only small clues about what they represent. Abstract shapes often represent a single concept or a simplified version of an organic shape.

Abstract shapes are used quite often 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 make a visual composition, structure information or relate other elements. If we want to make a more sophisticated design, we must take into account the meanings of the shapes.

Graphic designers are visual communicators. We communicate through images designing compositions with meaning. Some of the compositions that can take better advantage of shapes would be, for example, the design of logos, icons or typography.

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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 help us, therefore, 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 the shapes well for the design of a logo, we will help convey the desired feeling without resorting to text or additional information.

For example, let’s imagine that we need to develop a logo for a bank. Perhaps a positive approach could be to try to apply in the design of the logo the use of some form that conveys 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 for creating logos that help highlight what we want to communicate, but also for other graphic design compositions.

Psychology of form and typography

The psychology of form also plays a very important role in typography. We have already seen that there are countless different fonts, and we classify them into 4 large groups according to their shape: serif fonts, dry stick fonts, handwritten fonts and decorative fonts.

To better understand the personality of typography or typographic psychology, it is necessary to study the shape of its characters. Evaluate if they have more geometric or perhaps more organic shapes. If they have more straight and pointed shapes, like the ones we can find in sans-serif typefaces, or perhaps more curved and smoother, like the ones we can find in a handwritten typeface.

Typefaces that contain dominant characters with more rounded and curved shapes can evoke a little more closeness and also femininity. Unlike the characters with more straight shapes and angles that can evoke more formality and, sometimes, a certain aggressiveness.

That’s why it’s key that we always pay attention to the dominant forms of any typeface. This way we can select a typography that favors the context of our message and visual communication.

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