“Rounded Corners” vs “Sharp Corners”

Designers use rounded corners so much today that they’re more of an industry standard than a design trend. Not only are they found on software user interfaces, but hardware product designs as well. So what is it about rounded corners that make them so popular? Indeed they look appealing, but there’s more to it than that.

Rounded Corners Appear Less Bright

Anyone can appreciate the aesthetic beauty of rounded corners, but not everyone can explain where exactly that beauty comes from. The answer to that is literally in your eye.

Some experts say that rectangles with rounded corners are easier on the eyes than a rectangle with sharp edges because they take less cognitive effort to visually process. The fovea is fastest at processing circles. Processing edges involve more “neuronal image tools” in the brain [1]. Thus, rectangles with rounded corners are easier process because they look closer to a circle than a regular rectangle.

Scientific research done on corners by the Barrow Neurological Institute found that the “perceived salience of a corner varies linearly with the angle of the corner. Sharp angles generated stronger illusory salience than shallow angles” [2]. In other words, the sharper the corner, the brighter it appears. And the brighter a corner appears, the harder it is to look at.

Which object is easier to look at?

We’re Conditioned for Rounded Corners

Another explanation on why we have an eye for rounded corners is because they’re more organic to how we use everyday objects in the physical world [3]. Rounded corners are everywhere. And as children, we quickly learn that sharp corners hurt and that rounded corners are safer. That’s why when a child plays with a ball, most parents aren’t alarmed.

But if a child were to play with a fork, the parents would take the fork away for the fear of the child hurting itself. This provokes what neuroscience calls an “avoidance response” with sharp edges. Thus, we tend to “avoid sharp edges because in nature, they can present a threat” [4].

Which object would you trust with your child?

Rounded Corners Make Information Easier to Process

Rounded corners are more effective for maps and diagrams because they allow our eyes to easily follow lines “as it suits better to the natural movement of the head and eyes respectively” [5]. Sharp corners throw your eyes off the path of the line so you end up experiencing abrupt pauses when the line changes direction. But with rounded corners, the line leads your eyes around each corner to continue along the path smoothly.

Which diagram is easier for your eyes to follow?

Rounded corners also make effective content containers. This is because the rounded corners point inward towards the center of the rectangle. This puts the focus on the contents inside the rectangle. It also makes it easy to see which side belongs to which rectangle when two rectangles are next to each other.

Sharp corners point outward putting less focus on the contents inside the rectangle. They also make it hard to tell which of the two sides belong to which rectangle when two rectangles are next to each other. This is because each rectangle side is exactly a straight line. The sides of a rounded rectangle are unique because the lines curve towards the rectangle it belongs to.

Final Thoughts

There are more to rounded corners than meets the eye. Rounded corners are not only easier for our eyes to process, but they also make information easier to process. There’s no doubt that rounded corners are appealing. But these extra reasons make them even more appealing to use. When you talk to a client about rounded corners, you’ll now have something more to say than it just looks good.


[1] Realizations of Rounded Rectangles

[2] Corner salience varies linearly with corner angle during flicker-augmented contrast

[3] Why Do We Love Rounded Corners?

[4] NeuroFocus Study Reveals What Went Wrong With the Gap’s New Brand Logo

[5] FMC Visualization Guidelines

Reference: http://uxmovement.com/thinking/why-rounded-corners-are-easier-on-the-eyes/

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