Keep things shipshape: in life and in branding

Welcome to a new #RainyBrandingTuesday appointment. Today it’s all about shapes.

I recently gave one of my talks on branding  – where I explain about the case study for Rainy London Translations – and I mentioned, as usual, color and the importance of the right palette.

There’s a very specific psychology behind the selection of colours – I wrote a blog post on this a few weeks ago – but way too often we forget that SHAPE is also fundamental.

Not THESE shapes.

Not THESE shapes.

When a client asks me about their logo design, the first thing that my designer wants to know from him or her is the style s/he likes and dislikes. This includes the perception of attributes that your style is made of and that kind of brief (I like feminine or masculine, aggressive or muted, round or small, circular or schematic…) is achieved by filling this:


This chart is essential to get the brief right

This chart is essential to get the brief right – by

This helps your designer understand what you want and saves you a lot of misunderstanding and delays. As Amy Wong writes on this Blog Studio’s post: 

The principle shapes used in design are classified into two categories: 1) circles, ovals and ellipses, and 2) squares and triangles. Other important aesthetic factors include vertical versus horizontal lines and angular versus rounded shapes.

  1. Circles, ovals and ellipses are typically associated with a positive emotional message. These round shapes signify unity, and by extension, community, friendship, love, and relationships. Rings in specific imply marriage and partnership, suggesting stability and endurance. Curves of any sort tend to be viewed as feminine in nature.

  2. Squares and triangles, with their straight edges, are associated with strength, professionalism, and efficiency because of their precise nature. These rigid shapes imply practical stability and balance. Depending on what colours they are combined with, they may appear cold and uninviting. To counter that, off-balance positions or vibrant colours can yield a more interesting effect. Moreover, triangles have been said to be associated with power, science, religion, and law. These tend to be seen as masculine attributes, and are featured predominantly in companies with masculine-biased products (think cars and machinery).

  3. Vertical lines are subconsciously associated with masculinity, strength and aggression, while horizontal lines point to community, tranquility, and calm.

Ultimately, what matters is that your logo is your brand. Your brand is your business. So the aim is: make sure your first interaction with your customers is positive as you can’t give a second  first impression, really.

As mentioned in this article by Full Circle Design the 2012 London Olympics logo is a fiasco in terms of shape.

In an effort to capture multiple emotions and images at the same time with the shape, Wolff Olins created a muddled design, which attempts to combine the year of the event and the energy and eclectic nature of London, creates an indecipherable mess. If it weren’t attached to such a major, newsworthy event, nobody would have been able to tell you what was being said here.

London 2012 logo. Or a huge, pink Lisa Simpson.

London 2012 logo. Or a huge, pink Lisa Simpson.

(Personally: I keep seeing a kneeling-down Lisa Simpson with Olympic rings in her hair on the right-hand side. Just sayin’).

Shapes are important because just as colours, they ‘shape’ (no pun intended) the thought and what sticks to your retina.

As in the principle of Gestalt:

“People will perceive and interpret ambiguous or complex images as the simplest form(s) possible.”

Smashing Magazine on the perception of design mentions that:

‘We prefer things that are simple, clear and ordered. Instinctually these things are safer. They take less time for us to process and present less dangerous surprises.’



Therefore a logo like the one that FedEx has been using since 1994 is simply brilliant and design-wise, just perfect.

Can you spot the arrow?

Can you spot the arrow?


The triangle that serves as the arrow’s head furthers the emotional reaction that the color combination creates. The second you see this logo on the side of a truck or on an envelope, you remember it and understand what FedEx does even without additional text.

The same is achieved over time by timeless branding like Chanel or Coca Cola.

All in the shape.

All in the shape.

But also Shell, NBC, and Nike

Branding is iconic. And sticks to your retina.

Branding is iconic. And sticks to your retina.

are great examples of how appropriate the style is for their type of business.

As this post on CreativeBloq underlines,

Particular logo shapes send out particular messages:

Circles, ovals and ellipses tend to project a positive emotional message. Using a circle in a logo can suggest community, friendship, love, relationships and unity. Rings have an implication of marriage and partnership, suggesting stability and endurance.  Curves on any sort tend to be viewed as feminine in nature.
Straight edged logo shapes such as squares and triangles suggest stability in more practical terms and can also be used to imply balance. Straight lines and precise logo shapes also impart strength, professionalism and efficiency. However, and particularly if they are combined with colours like blue and grey, they may also appear cold and uninviting. Subverting them with off-kilter positioning or more dynamic colours can counter this problem and conjure up something more interesting.
It has also been suggested that triangles have a good association with power, science, religion and law. These tend to be viewed as masculine attributes, so it’s no coincidence that triangles feature more prominently in the logos of companies whose products have a masculine bias.
Our subconscious minds associate vertical lines with masculinity, strength and aggression, while horizontal lines suggest community, tranquillity and calm.
The implications of shape also extend to the typeface chosen. Jagged, angular typefaces may appear as aggressive or dynamic; on the other hand, soft, rounded letters give a youthful appeal. Curved typefaces and cursive scripts tend to appeal more to women, while strong, bold lettering has a more masculine edge.

In this sense, try to make sure the shape of your logo:

  • respects the purpose you initially wanted (be simple, feminine, strong,…)
  • reflects the business you’re in (appropriate. e.g. Toy R Us is playful and childish enough)
  • works well with the palette you’ve chosen
  • is versatile yet an evergreen
  • works well in negative (black & white) and does not evoke further shapes
  • I only see one thing. Actually, two.

    I only see one thing. Actually, two.

  • has a positive message and cannot be misunderstood
Not hungry anymore, really.

Not hungry anymore, really.

So, what shapes do you think work best for your purpose? Is your brand shipshape?

Further readings:




One thought on “Keep things shipshape: in life and in branding

  1. Pingback: I shot the Serif: right typeface, more power to your logo | Rainy London Branding

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