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Triangle, Square, Circle: A Psychological Test

1. Fill in these three forms with one of the the primary colors: red, yellow, or blue. The coloring is to fill the form entirely in each case. One color per shape.

triangle square circle

2. If possible, provide an explanation for your choice of color.

In 1923 Wassily Kandinsky circulated a questionnaire at the Bauhaus, asking respondents to fill in a triangle, square, and circle witht he primary colors of red, yellow, and blue. He hoped to discover a universal correspondence between form and color, embodied in the equation red=square, yellow=triangle, blue=circle.

triangle square circle

Kandinsky achieved a remarkable consensus with his questionnaire — in part, perhaps, because others at the school supported his theoretical ideal. The equation of yellow triangle, red square, and blue circle inspired numerous projects at the Bauhaus in the early 1920s, including a baby cradle by Peter Keler and a proposal for a wall mural by Herbert Bayer, although in later years some members of the Bauhaus dismissed Kandinsky’s fascination with these shape and color combinations as utopian aestheticism.

While few designers today would argue for the universal validity of such combinations, the attempt to identify the grammar and elements of a perceptually based “language of vision” has informed modernist design education since the 1940s.

In 1990 Kadinsky’s “psychological test” was recirculated to designers, educators, and critics. The replies range from straightforward attempts to record an intuitive reaction to statements that reject Kandinsky’s original project as irrelevant to the aesthetic and social world of today.

Upon reviewing the questionnaire, I found that my initial opinions differed from Kandinksy’s formula. I’d make the circle red, and the square blue.

triangle square circle

It so happens that I’m not alone. Graphic designer and writer Frances Butler shared this opinion, and put his reasons into words that I won’t even bother to top. My thoughts exactly:

Delving into the folklore of color and value, I assign colors to the three shapes in this way:

  1. The Triangle = Yellow, because it is the most spiky shape, the least bulky, the lightest. This shape is the dancer, the sparkler.
  2. The Circle = Red, because it is the punctum, the point, the heart of the matter, and hearts are red. The center, in Western culture, is the palace of vitality, and vitality is bloody.
  3. The Square = Blue, or true blue. the stability of the spatialized consciousness which we have developed since Euclid depends on the square, in a recessive color, as befits the shape that is the foundation, the support of all later shapes and ideas.

18 comments… add one

  • andreas January 4, 2007, 12:05 pm

    yes

  • Warwick January 6, 2007, 7:50 am

    Depends on circumstances and context; I can imagine situations in which any of the three colours could occupy any one of the forms. Spiky blues or reds are feasible;circular sun-like yellows….

  • gina January 8, 2007, 12:21 am

    Triangle = Red
    Square = Yellow
    Circle = Blue

    It feels right to make the Tri Red and Circle Blue. But the square in that case would be green but that is not an option.

    None of these shapes feels like they should be yellow, though I would like to look at Yellow lines or ovals or octagons.

    I suppose I like Triangles to be green or red or even the right shade of very vivid purple because triangles by their nature make me a bit uneasy because 2 or 3 of their corners are smaller than 90 degree angles and that is unsettling.

    Circles always feel blue to me. Circles are centering and calming and so is blue.

  • Fletch January 18, 2007, 5:39 pm

    If I find out I’m in love with my mom, I’ll be pissed at you Jace.

    At first I chose:
    Red- Triangle
    Yellow-Square
    Blue- Circle

    But it didn’t feel quite right, so I kept rearranging and finally had yellow triangle, blue square, red circle. I can’t explain why though.

  • DGtal Zoo June 23, 2009, 9:37 pm

    Wow! I just spent 10 MINUTES OF MY LIFE to yet again validate the fact that Bauhaus modernism is neither objective nor universal, but instead a fiction of epic proportions! thanks Jace! :P

  • Andrew Duffield October 13, 2009, 2:35 pm

    Unfortunately the test is flawed. The primary colours are Red, Blue and Green – not yellow. The ‘enlightened’ (sic) answer is:

    Square – Blue
    Triangle – Red
    Circle – Green

  • jaced.com October 13, 2009, 2:57 pm

    There is more than one color model.

    RGB are primary colors in the additive color model, which is what your computer monitors use. When you add red light, green light, and blue light together, you get white.

    The subtractive color model is the opposite; the primary colors are in fact RYB. A complete absence of RYB results in white, or a blank page.

  • daniel May 6, 2010, 5:19 pm

    I saw these shapes on my ceiling on january of 1994 while an earthquake (northridge earthquake) was happening in california when I was 5 years old, but i cannot remember the color each figure had, but the colors were red green and yellow. once the shaking stopped, the lights flashed three times really quick and dissapeared. there was no prizm or anything on the house that would reflect those colors and shapes on the ceiling. till this day it is a mystery on what they were.

  • Mary Beth September 27, 2010, 9:34 pm

    Yellow triangle– yield sign.
    Red circle — most similar in shape to a stop sign.
    Blue square — it’s the one that’s left over and it feels right for the square to be blue anyway.

  • Myk now Myk February 22, 2011, 1:37 pm

    Yellow Hazard
    Blue Hospital
    Red Stop

    just the first things that came to my mind…

    why ask why???

  • Evandro May 7, 2011, 4:18 pm

    Eu escolhi:
    Triângulo = amarelo
    Quadrado = azul
    Círculo = vermelho

  • Kutanra September 26, 2011, 1:19 am

    I would actually have to agree with the Bauhaus.

    The yellow triangle I am sure we all accociate with danger or saftey warnings. It is also that both are sharp on the eyes

    The red square I must admit I am slightly influenced by Mr Men with Mr Strong but both red and squares are strong and solid.

    I would choose the blue circle because both remind me of water, with circular bubbles n such but it also is a very submissive smooth colour, just as the circle is smooth and neverending.

    I am studying this in AS Graphics and it is ueseful to me, thanks! =D

  • jaced.com January 2, 2012, 11:54 am

    Check out the EICTV logo, inspired by the Bauhaus school of art. Note the artists choice of color assignments.

  • Joshua M. Gray March 21, 2012, 4:23 pm

    Nice to find colors added to these shapes and a ‘test’ of sorts. Regarding Kandinsky’s test, is it ok to rearrange the order of the shapes? I think they should first be rearranged, and then a color assigned. They don’t make sense to me in the order they currently are. I do agree with a red circle – yellow triangle – blue square (in that order ;-)

  • Ángela April 27, 2012, 4:16 am

    I made the red circle too when my professor did this test at university :)

  • Peter September 1, 2012, 5:36 am

    Triangle-Yellow, Common yield sign
    Circle-Red, Closely resembles a stop sign
    Square-Blue, Cup of water

  • jaced.com November 29, 2012, 10:23 am

    A friend of mine clued me in to logo of the EICTV — in English, that’d be the International Film School — founded by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in Havana back in the eighties. The logo was created by the Argentinian Fernando Birri, inspired by the Bauhaus school of art. Note his color assignments. :D

  • Mondarabine September 29, 2013, 2:01 pm

    je préfère le triangle en bleu, il a plus de caractère, le carré en jaune,, j’y vois un espace plus grand et le jaune fait qq chose de vaste, le cercle rouge, il est plus fort dominant, le rouge me parait le symbole de la force qui ne peut être que ds le cercle..

    mon opinion et ma vue libre

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