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Hip to be Square

Is square more social?

Times. Trafalgar. Steve Urkel. Instagram photos. What do these things have in common? They’re all famous squares. But in recent years, it’s been Instagram, not Steve Urkel, making headlines. But why the sudden popularity of square images?

Square format images have been around for a long time, from Mondrian to Polaroid; square-shaped art’s not a new development. What is new, however, is the massive popularity of square-dimension media across digital and social platforms including Vine and Instagram. What is it about square visual media that resonates on social?

Here are three reasons why square has taken over:

1. Square is Mobile

Most digital media consumption now takes place on mobile phones, and most of that via mobile applications like Facebook, Vine, Instagram and Snapchat. What this means is that more images and videos are viewed on tiny handheld phone screens than on desktop computers. Because of the physical constraints of mobile phones – namely size and how they’re held – square is the most effective way to format and present imagery; you don’t have to turn your phone on its side to better view a square video like you would have to do with a video formatted in a traditional, rectangular aspect ratio.

Additionally, when scrolling through content on your smartphone, square images fill up just enough of the screen to leave equidistant margins above and below the image, making them more visually appealing if you want to convey textual information in those spaces. Simply put, square-shaped images just look better on phones.

2. Square is Simple

In many ways, it’s easier to create pleasing compositions within a square aspect ratio. Because all sides of the image are the same length, squares are great for making effective use of the rule of thirds. Unlike with rectangular images, you can center a subject in the middle of a composition without creating too much awkward negative space.

Because of this, you can create beautiful square images with less mental effort than you would have to put into making a visually appealing rectangular image since centered subjects and symmetry look more pleasing and less trite in square.

Finally, it’s easier to fill up the image when you’re using square meaning less negative space which allows a viewer to more quickly understand the subject matter and its overarching message.

gelatosquare

gelatorect

3. Square is Instant

Above all else, the appeal of the square lies in instant gratification. It takes the human brain less time to comprehend a square image than a rectangular image.

When you look at a horizontal image, your eyes tend to travel across the composition in the same way one reads a book; that is to say, left to right, top to bottom while following leading lines across the plane:

LeedRect

When you look at a square composition your eyes tend to focus in the center of the composition before traveling around the image in a circle:

Leedsquare

This means that rectangular images are better at creating a narrative as the human eye follows a linear path to take in different elements at points along your visual journey. However, the strength of the square image is that your eyes don’t have to travel as much which results in your brain processing the image more instantly. In this way, square images are naturally suited for the digital age and mobile media where speed and efficiency are important for short attention spans – an image only has a few seconds to make an impact as a viewer scrolls through and square images can give faster and more effective impressions.

When and Where to Use Square

– Use square when most of your audience will be accessing your content via mobile.

– Use square if you want to convey a simple image or idea that requires less critical thinking. If your subject matter is more complex and will require a longer time or emotional investment, go with a rectangle to tell a more complete story.

– Don’t be afraid of symmetry and centering subjects when using a square format. What might look obvious or simplistic in a rectangular composition could look amazing in square. Simplicity and visceral reactions are key.

– When creating square videos, keep your subject matter simple, centered and short.

The Takeaway

However, there are no hard and fast rules about art OR social media so the above tips are not definitive! Experiment by using the same content cropped in different ways and see what you think works best for you. Below are some video examples where I repurposed conventional 1280×720 footage into 640×640. See if you can notice any differences in their overall effect:

Laurel Village’s Pavilion has just achieved LEED Platinum status which means it’s officially the most sustainable building on campus! Join your student…

Springtime poi spinning in front of CSU Summit Hall. #101ReasonsToLiveOn

Christian Herrmann

About Christian Herrmann

Adopted into the Ram family after years of social anthropology and documentary-making in England. Vine obsessed. Connoisseur of awkward Youtube videos. Greatest accomplishment so far: made a rap video that hit the front page of Reddit.