Images and emotion are closely linked, hence the old saying “a picture says a thousand words.” But even a simple shape or line can provoke an emotional response, possibly without the observer being aware of it. This is an interesting fact when working with design.
A great example of what I’m talking about is the use of rounded corners.
It takes less cognitive brainpower to see rounded rectangles than it does to register sharp-cornered ones. Interestingly this means it takes the visual senses more time to register the points of a rectangle than with an ellipse of the same shape, and a circle can be processed even faster. It seems that a shape with sharp-corners literally interrupts thought by forcing the brain to pause at each point until they complete the circuit. Try it yourself – which one is easier on the eye?
This emotional response comes about because, from a young age, we have learnt to avoid sharp objects incase they harm us. But rounded shapes send a more positive message to the brain. This is a primordial response that we have not grown out of, and one that should be considered when using shapes to generate trust and confidence in a product or service. This is exactly why they are sometimes known as ‘friendly rectangles’, and are often used within web design for call-to-action buttons such as ‘buy now’ and ‘sign up’.
Unless you’re targeting a young audience (in which case rounded corners work well throughout the design layout), the rounded corner should not be over used. Ideally you want to use the method to soften the design, but also maintain an experienced professional look. With this in mind, it’s essential to understand the identity you’re looking to portray, what your message is, and who you’re targeting.
Apple Inc. visionary Mr Steve Jobs embraced the concept to its full potential, from marketing right through to the actual design of the products. Take a look around and notice for yourself how rectangles are used in a round-about way…