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Emotion of Shapes

Shapes send messages without saying a word.

by Katie Kohler — Posted on October 18th, 2017

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A red octagon screams stop! A bull’s-eye might spur a Target run.

One of the most famous shapes, the contour of a Coca-Cola bottle, was described as the “perfect liquid wrapper” by industrial designer, Raymond Loewy.

Nazarena Luzzi Castro, a Creative Partner at M + Co., is responsible for driving creative briefs, creative strategy, creative development, agency and creative partner management across multiple projects and campaigns. Her passion lies in designing and developing products, being a part of the process from inception to completion while building meaningful, interactive and engaging customer experiences. Before joining M+Co., she worked with Moody’s Analytics and SAP.

Sometimes we can’t convey everything with just typography. Not everyone is as well-versed in typography and understanding emotion through the shape a letter creates as designers. For specific brands we need visual cues.

– Nazarena Luzzi Castro




“Sometimes, for the emotion we are trying to get out of the user, we need shapes.”

Castro pointed to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature’s logo as an example of shapes telling a brand’s story. The inspiration for the WWF logo came from Chi-Chi, a giant panda that was living at the London Zoo in 1961, the same year WWF was created. WWF’s founders were aware of the need for a strong, recognizable symbol that would overcome all language barriers. They agreed that the big, furry animal with her appealing, black-patched eyes would make an excellent choice. The design of the logo has evolved over the past four decades, but the giant panda’s distinctive features remain an integral part of WWF’s treasured and unmistakable symbol. Today, WWF’s trademark is recognized as a universal symbol for the conservation movement.

“It wouldn’t be the same if it didn’t have the panda,” said Castro. Castro highlights the emotions conveyed by the three most used shapes in design.




1. Rectangles and Squares


Stability, honesty, balance

The most common shapes we encounter from the stack of magazines to the buildings that make up a city’s skyline. The reason for its popularity is because it is a trusted familiar shape. These shapes scream rational, practical and conformity. As far as shapes go, these are neither flashy nor attention seekers, however clever designers may twist or turn them to add interest to a design.

“A lot of the work I do is in web. Rectangles and squares are part of every grid. They are everywhere. Every time I’m thinking of design I’m thinking of squares in a grid,” explained Castro.

2. Circles


Harmony, protection, unity, commitment, lifecycles, affection, comfort, compassion

“Circles convey community, love and creativity. They aren’t as rigid as squares,” she explained.

A ring, the ultimate sign of commitment, comes to mind when thinking of circles but Castro says she tends to analyze the color and movement over shape.

3. Triangles


Justice, science, masculinity, energy, power, law, science, religion

“They can convey action, tension or aggression. It’s very interesting,” said Castro. They can be viewed differently depending on if their sides are equal or different in length, whether they are sitting on their base or unstable when not. 

Also, the use of triangles imply motion since the eye is drawn to the pointed tip.

Castro’s favorite examples of shapes used in design


AirBnb

“It is amazing what they have done. How they have created their brand is phenomenal. They created an icon where they combine people, places, love, and an ‘a’ into one. They put the main parts of their brand into one icon.”

M+Co Brand

“We started with a square and an arrow. Then we expanded those into patterns. You can see all of the primary shapes in these patterns.”