22 - 05 - 18

Shaping up: How Different Shapes Within Signage Can Alter Brand Perception

What impacts brand perception?

It’s commonly recognised that fonts, colours and imagery can all play a part in the way in which a brand is perceived. These should all be carefully considered when creating any brand collateral (not least of which is signage). For instance, certain colours can evoke different emotions and varieties of fonts have associations with specific periods in time and different industries.

What is less commonly recognised is that shapes can also have a subconscious impact on brand perception and as such should be in-line with your brand identity where possible. Unconsciously using one shape over another just because of visual appeal or ease, may mean you are aligning your brand to an emotion or association you were unaware of.

Different types of shapes

Shapes are grouped into three different types:

Geometric shapes are those you would commonly associate with the word ‘shape’ e.g. square, triangle, diamond etc. They are often symmetrical and have very close association with mathematics.

Organic shapes are freeform shapes that are either man-made or found in nature. They are often formed of a combination of curved and straight lines and are rarely symmetrical.

Abstract shapes are often stylised versions of more recognisable geometric and organic shapes (or combinations of several shapes). For instance, web icons are often simplified versions of more complicated man-made shapes, e.g. a telephone simplified down into a series of basic thin lines.

Shapes in design

Whether they are intended or not, any type of design will be using shapes. Sometimes they are obvious to see e.g. using a rectangular key line to outline a logo. Sometimes they are less obvious, a block of text will naturally make a rectangle, particularly when fully justified, and sometimes they are simply formed out of negative space; the space that is the content isn’t occupying.

A good designer will always be aware of these shapes and where possible will use them to not only give the design visual appeal but work for the brand and the perception it wants to achieve.

Shapes in signage

In signage, you will find shapes in the form of the actual physical sign itself, e.g. a square sign, a rectangular sign with rounded corners, a round sign (or they can be manufactured to pretty much any shape required!).

You will also find shapes within the graphics sitting on the sign as described in the paragraph above. So there are lots of opportunities to aid or potentially hinder your brand’s perception depending on the shapes used.

But as with all things design, generally less is more! Shapes should add to the overall design without necessarily dominating it.

What shapes could be used and why?

Circles: Convey a sense of completeness. They surround, protect and keep safe. They are infinite (have no beginning or end) and have represented the sun, moon and earth though out the ages. They are also associated with love and femininity. Circles are used less regularly in signage, due to being a slightly more awkward shape to fit text into and potentially a more expensive option as a physical shape, but remain a good choice for grabbing attention as they are less commonly found in signage and branding.

Squares/rectangles: The most common shape found in design, and so conveys a sense of trust, solidity and stability. If used within the graphical design of a sign it may not be the best shape option to grab attention, but can utilise that sense of trust and familiarity. Placed at an angle a square or rectangle can suddenly seem a bit more interesting and add a different dimension to a design. Finally, it’s a practical shape in terms of the physical shape of a sign, as it will fit perfectly as a shop fascia for example and is cost effective to manufacture.

Triangles: More obviously triangles can be used to suggest direction (in the form of an arrow), but this can also imply a brand with progression and movement. When oriented on their base (pointing up) they represent stability, but conversely, can create tension and represent instability when pointing down. They are seen to represent a more masculine nature and have connotations with religion. As a physical shape of the sign, they are used predominately as warning and advisory signs on roads, so should be considered carefully before being used in other ways.

Crosses: Whilst they have religious overtones, they need not be used as a traditional ‘crucifix’ style shape so could be angled or with vertical/horizontal lines offset from one another. They also represent group solidarity, life and are seen to be slightly more masculine in shape (due to the straight lines and points). From a graphical point-of-view, they could be used to help break up a design.

Spirals: A structured shape that is found in nature and life. It can be used to imply a brand that evolving or on a journey (when oriented clockwise) or one that’s committed to its values (counterclockwise). Unlikely to be an actual shape of sign due to the practicalities of its shape.

Curves: Another free-flowing shape that conveys movement, direction, softness and serenity. The lack of angles and straight lines reduces the feeling of conflict and has a feminine quality. They can easily be incorporated into the graphical design of a sign/brand and elements of a physical sign to e.g. rounded corners, sweeping curves along an edge etc).

Organic Shapes: Freeform shapes used within the graphical design of a sign/branding can be great for grabbing attention as they are unfamiliar to the viewer's eye. They have to be used with carefully with any copy to ensure a balanced design, which a geometric shape would lend itself to more easily. As the physical shape of a sign, an organic shape can make it more original and eye-catching, however, could come with cost implications due to the bespoke nature of the manufacture.

In Summary, shapes are found in the design of branding or signage, whether they are intentional or not, so it’s worth ensuring the shapes used are working for you by considering about the emotions they may be conveying to the viewer.

Where company branding already exists, consistency is key and new signage should be sympathetic to that branding rather than introducing new shapes and causing conflict.

Whilst as a concept it may seem less important than other considerations, giving thought to the shapes used in relation to your brand and signage will help ensure a final design that is both pleasing to look at and tied-in with the brand perception you are trying to achieve.