What do a stop sign, a slice of pizza, an umbrella and a butterfly all have in common? Instantly, you can visualize their silhouette and may even have an emotional reaction to them—of course, it’s their unique and identifiable shape that ties them all together. This is because the human mind responds to each shape in its own way by assigning individual characteristics and meaning.
Just like animals in the wild who can perceive shapes in order to stalk their prey or avoid danger, humans distinguish shapes for a variety of reasons. So when it comes to creating a logo—shapes matter. The specific shapes you use, their color and how they work with the typography will not only form your design, but represent your brand.
By taking the time to carefully consider and understand the implications that logo shapes can have on your customers' emotions, habits and behaviors, you will craft a logo that is relevant, meaningful and easily recognizable. Here we will explore the various logo shapes, including examples, tips and ways to use them in your logo design ideas.
Why logo shapes matter
Understanding the psychology behind shapes, and the influence they can have on your branding efforts, will enable you to reach your target audience in a more meaningful and effective way.
Let’s look at the Nike swoosh as an example. Even reading the word swoosh, you’re likely visualizing the iconic logo shape. What’s more, you’ve subconsciously made associations with that swoosh without even realizing it. So what comes to mind? Maybe the pair of sneakers you last bought (or are saving up to buy), a flood of Nike sponsored athletes like LeBron James or Rafael Nadal, or just a general feeling of quality and sportsmanship?
Whatever it is, none of it is by coincidence. Nike’s success is rooted in their recognizable brand identity, which strengthens their brand equity in the mind’s of consumers and within the industry, ultimately leading to unwavering brand loyalty. Pretty impressive for such a simple design that is considered one of the best logos of all time.
With this in mind, the right logo shapes can:
Help convey specific emotions or feelings
Develop brand recognition and positive associations
Influence customer perception
Encourage brand trust and customer loyalty
Deliver your brand message
Foster meaningful connections with your target audience
Strengthen your brand identity
All shapes can be divided into three categories:
Now, let’s dig deeper into each of the logo shapes to help you understand which is right for you.
Think back to elementary school and the most basic shapes you learned about first such as circles, triangles and squares. These are all types of geometric shapes which are a result of lines, points and curves coming together in various configurations. Geometric shapes are most commonly symmetrical and have a very distinct structure.
The sun, the moon and the earth are all round and perfect examples of circular shapes in our lives. Unlike any other shape, circles are uniquely non-linear and do not have any edges, corners or defined beginning and end. Because of this, circle are universally symbolic for wholeness, perfection, completeness and cyclic motion. They are also representative of community, friendship, inclusivity and strength.
So, it is no wonder that circle logos are one of the most popular logo shapes. It is precisely because of these positive and emotional associations that circles have great power and influence in logo design. Clean, simple, and recognizable, circles are versatile, and aesthetically pleasing, which makes them a great choice for any industry. Like circles, ovals and ellipses maintain the same softness and malleability, which is why they are a beloved logo shape choice.
Unlike circles, triangles have definitive corners and edges, and they represent different ideas based on their orientation. For example, depending on where the point is situated, triangles can traditionally represent either masculinity or femininity. Spiritually speaking, these three-sided shapes are symbolic of enlightenment, growth and energy.
Triangles are confident and convey dependability, trust and strength. When designing a logo, they are an excellent logo shape option because they are so flexible and adaptable. Whether inverted or upright, triangles can also appear as the letters ‘A’ and ‘V’ or even ‘D’, and additionally they can be used as arrows. Even more, triangles can interlock or overlap to look visually pleasing while also conveying specific messages.
Squares and rectangles
Stable, balanced and reliable, squares and rectangles are all around us. You’re either holding a rectangle in your hand right now, or staring at one as we speak. Since most designers work on grids, rectangles and squares are a foundational element of design, regardless of the medium being used.
If you’re looking for a professional and strong logo shape for your business, a square or rectangle may be the right choice. Squares are the perfect vehicle to contain or frame visual elements. They anchor the eye and draw attention to the most important aspects of your logo design. From modern logos to startup logos, let’s face it—it’s hip to be square.
Both vertical and horizontal lines can create various logo shapes. The composition of lines together show movement and innovation, making them an excellent choice for tech logos and minimalist logos. Vertical lines specifically can be used to convey stability, progress and growth, while horizontal lines communicate fluidity and a sense of peacefulness.
If you use lines in your logo design or combine them with other logo shapes, be sure to acknowledge each line individually, and as a part of the whole. Consider the spacing between lines and the impact these have on your overall composition.
Naturally occurring organic shapes such as clouds, flowers, rocks and leaves are found in our daily lives. Also known as free form shapes, they are unlike the rigid structure of geometric shapes because they do not follow any rules, meaning they are often asymmetrical and irregular.
Think of the four natural elements—fire, water, earth and air to conceptualize these logo shapes. Just as no two snowflakes are the same, shapes that occur in nature follow their own path, meaning there is a great deal of diversity and flexibility. These irregular shapes are pliable and adaptable, making them a creative choice for logo design.
Natural shapes are deeply entwined in our collective consciousness, which makes their symbolic meaning very effective in evoking emotion and communicating messages. For example, if you were designing a logo for a natural spa, you’d likely use soft edges and gentle lines to effectively communicate a sense of relaxation all within your logo. To compliment this, you could try calming or muted logo colors paired with tranquil shapes like water or rocks.
Curved shapes and spirals
Like naturally occurring forms, curved shapes are often irregular or uneven. Since these shapes are less conventional, they allow for more freedom and creativity in terms of logo design, and the message your brand wants to communicate.
You may have noticed curved shapes have become more commonplace in our day-to-day interactions, like within social media apps or even business cards. This is no coincidence. Evolutionarily speaking, humans avoid sharp corners and edges that can be dangerous or harmful. Because of this, round edges are not just aesthetically pleasing, but they are easier on the eyes.
Curved shapes are dynamic and fluid, which conveys agility and ingenuity. In fact, when it comes to designing for UI, rounded corners have become more than just a design trend but an industry standard. Curved shapes and lines can feel safe and inviting, which makes them particularly appealing for food logos, fitness logos and entertainment logos.
It is also worth noting that curved shapes can often be seen in wordmark or lettermark logos composed of text. The curvature serves a mold for the typography, creating a guideline for the flow of the text, both impacting the letters themselves, and the shape that holds them together. While you may not concretely see the curved shape within some logos, it certainly impacts the layout and design of the text.
Another curved shape, spirals, are less common in logo design, but they are effective for delivering specific messages. For example, spirals are often associated with mathematics and science, like the helical structure of DNA. Spiral shapes are also representative of growth and fertility, which makes them a great choice for medical logos.
Additionally, spirals can evoke a sense of curiosity, and healing which makes them a popular choice for natural products, spas and retreats and alternative medicine.
Abstract logo shapes may seem complex or unclear, but actually they are some of the most thoughtful and purposefully designed forms. What makes abstract configurations so unique is that they are often created using other shapes. For example, you may choose to combine a series of circles and lines to create a new form that represents an idea or belief.
This is particularly appealing in logo design because you want your logo to help tell a story, or evoke a feeling in your consumers’ minds, and abstract shapes can help share that narrative. Abstract logos pique curiosity and grab the attention of prospective customers who want to know more.
Furthermore, abstract shapes can be very useful for creative brands or companies that prefer not to use literal shapes or images in their designs. Abstract shapes are great for both minimalist and modern logos, as they offer flexibility and unlimited creativity.
Symbols and cultural shapes
Another type of logo shape you can consider are symbols and various cultural shapes. More specifically, this refers to shapes like hearts, stars and crosses, all of which carry a very definitive meaning that is universally recognized. For example, these shapes are symbolic of religion and are often used in religious symbols, or brands that want to convey nobility or grandeur.
Stars, for instance, connote divinity, guidance and excellence, and the cross is a common motif in medical industries, along with the unmistakable caduceus (also known the staff of Hermes). Hearts are ubiquitous for love, romance and friendship, but are also a common motif in medical and health logo designs.
Symbols and cultural shapes have also made their way into our consciousness through emojis and computer icons. In fact, the heart symbol is one of the top ten most used emojis. With this in mind, it is important to understand the language and cultural meaning behind these specific types of shapes and the message they communicate. What’s more, certain shapes can be interpreted differently around the world, so if you are designing a logo for a global company, be sure to understand the localized language of these shapes.
Tips for choosing your logo shapes
Good logo design is all about balance, intention and understanding the message you want to convey. If you want to learn more about how to design a logo, you can read our in-depth guide, but here are a few helpful and actionable tips when selecting your logo shapes:
Use positive and negative shape: Utilizing the negative space (also known as white space) which is created in between letters or shapes is an effective way to make the most out of your logo composition. One of the best examples is the iconic FedEx logo, that sneakily hides an arrow in the negative space between the ‘E’ and the ‘X’. This arrow helps communicate the brand values of progress, flexibility and dependability.
Pay attention to typography: The best fonts for logos are the ones that embody the brand’s identity while also communicating its message. Of course, the same is true for logo shapes. So when combining these two elements in your logo design, it is important to make sure they work together in a harmonious way. For example, if you are using a curved or circular logo, you might consider a Sans-serif font that has subtle roundings on the corners, to maintain a cohesive design. Furthermore, you can think of the shape as a guideline for your typography to determine the specific layout of your text.
Work with color and shape together: Do a red heart and a blue heart convey the same message? What about a green triangle compared to a black one? It is very clear that color plays a major role in the interpretation of shapes. Color is deeply entrenched in our consciousness and must be considered in tandem with logo shapes.
Make sure you’re in the right industry: Certain logo shapes work best within specific industries, and for good reason. For example, if you work in a very business-oriented field and want to project professionalism, competence and sophistication, you probably want to avoid informal or folksy hand-drawn shapes, and stick to geometric ones that convey trust and dependability. On the same note, you also want to pay attention to competitors within your industry. If everyone in your field uses square logos, you also want to consider thinking outside the box (literally), in order to differentiate your logo from the pack.
Stay on-brand: All content that you create, from your social media posts to your product itself, must speak the same language in order to be aligned with your brand identity. Since your logo will likely serve as the face of your brand, and the first thing prospective customers will see, and hopefully remember long after, you must choose a logo shape that cooperates with your overall vision. Keeping your logo shape on-brand ensures that whoever sees your logo will instantly get a feeling for your brand and what it's all about.
Psychology of logo shapes
Different shapes evoke different emotions and associations in people's minds. This is why it is important to choose the right shape for your logo.
Here is a brief overview of the psychology of some common logo shapes:
Circles: Circles are associated with unity, community, friendship and stability. They help brands convey a sense of warmth and belonging.
Squares: Squares are associated with strength, efficiency, professionalism and practicality. They're often used by brands that want to convey a sense of trust and reliability.
Triangles: Brands that want to communicate a sense of strength and leadership often favor triangles in their logo shape. Triangles are associated with power, law and science.
Horizontal lines: Horizontal lines are associated with calm, tranquility, community and speed. Brands use them to evoke relaxation and peace.
Vertical lines: Vertical lines are associated with strength, courage, dominance and progress. They're often used by brands that want to convey a sense of power and ambition.
Once you understand the different meanings associated with different shapes, you can start to apply them to your logo design. For example, if you want to create a logo that conveys a sense of unity and community, you might want to use a circular shape.
That said, it's important to note that the psychology of logo shapes isn't a science. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. The best way to choose the right shape for your logo is to consider your brand identity and target audience.