It all started with the long drive on a rainy day. I was engrossed in my favourite pastime—a meditation of sorts, if you may call it. With my face extendedly fixed on the window sill and the wind hitting it, I indulged myself in the beauty of greens melting into the blue sky. There was suddenly a feeling of those rooted steadily in the earth, having their moment of glory intermingling with the heavenly counterparts. And in this period of rumination, came a fresh ‘whiff of thought’—why do most things in nature come sans corners? Why do we see God’s creations being oval, round, curved, but seldom perfect squares or triangles? Perhaps a spiritual message that imperfection can also be beautiful. But maybe something more and let’s keep that for my next rumination session.
While I later found that there was a scientific logic behind the ovals and spirals in nature, there are certain messages in the ‘language of shapes’. Most of the curves are feminine in nature and signify harmony, commitment, safety, continuity and completeness, while squares, rectangles and triangles give a more ‘mathematics’ feel and hence are linked to balance, practicality, purpose and rationality.
So, do marketing rules follow this ‘language of shapes’? Looks like the answer is affirmative, with a lot of psychological theories such as the Gestalt theory governing the design elements and a huge amount of research going into ‘sensory priming’ or the technique by which exposure to one stimulus subconsciously triggers subsequent stimulus and associations in memory. To explain, I will take an example from my life—dark clouds and rains prime me to go into a ‘happy thinking mode’. They clearly take me back to my childhood days when I use to write poetry, especially during rains. I know most people are primed to sleep when it’s cloudy and that’s the difference in how each individual reacts basis multiple associations in the brain.
Let’s link this ‘language of shapes’ to logos. Logos of financial and insurance companies such as Deutsche Bank, American Express, Visa, Citibank, Wells Fargo use squares to depict trust, stability and safety. Also, in a few cases, squares are used to convey power and confidence—as in the case of BBC and Microsoft. But at the same instance, squares can be perceived as standard, boring and those that lack innovation. In order to beat that feel, Microsoft makes good use of colours, which depicts diversity and freshness.
While square and rectangles depict humanness, triangles break the barrier of boring and provide a unique combination of focus, power and innovation. Construction, technology, law, finance and a few banking companies use it. A few notable examples being DLF, Caterpillar, Delta, Axis bank, Reliance Communications, and Google Drive and Google Play.
A quick scan through your memory will indicate that the logos of Body Shop, Johnson & Johnson, and Forest Essentials are ovals or circles—best used to indicate completeness. While beauty product brands such as Lakme, MAC, L’Oréal, Estee Lauder all use rectangles and squares to depict the safety associated with the brands.
Not only logos, but shapes play an important part of your product and packaging shape as well. If you revisit the games we played as children—chess, Lego, Chinese checkers, gallery probed the mind towards rationality, unstructured games such as ring-a-ring o’ roses, dark room and others involved continuity. Before I end this article, I would want to leave you with a thought—why are TV, mobile screens, furniture, shampoo bottles, as well as video game visualisations moving towards curvilinear and softer shapes? Maybe as Antoni Gaudi, the great architect, said, “The straight line belongs to men, the curved one to God.”
(The author is an experienced professional in the consumer insights and analytics domain)