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 circle square

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 circle square


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 circle square

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.


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