Using the element of shape shapes in graphic design can seem very basic, but there are underlying meanings and complex ways of using shape that are important to remember. Shapes don’t have to be just squares, circles and triangles. Quick points to remember about the element of shape:
Three classes of shape
- Geometric: mechanical, pure form
- Natural: organic, irregular
- Abstract: mass and proportion
Shape and meaning
- Curves and Circles are soft, whole, peace, feminine, everlasting, care-free
- Rectangular means trust, order, security, masculine, solid, reliable, predictable, familiar, monotonous, boring
Shape can be used to
- create texture
- define space
- produce mood
For a more in depth look at the theories behind shape, read Get in Shape in 10 Minutes or Less.
The Waitrose Honey logo uses implied shape and lines to create the E and the beebody. This practice of implied shape is often referred to as Gestalt theory, which basically states that you can infer a whole by only seeing its parts. There really is nothing to that bee body other than three lines, but you see the striped body of a bee because your mind says you should.
Usually people are scared of bees because they sting, but this bee is actually kind of cute! Why? It is a soft bee. What makes it soft? It has smooth curves in its wings, body and head that give it a calm appearance. Asking and then answering these kinds of questions will help you discover what makes good design good and how you can incorporate those rules into your own compositions.
Also notice the underlying rectangles of the honey logo as whole. Rectangles evoke feelings of dependability, reliability, predictability; you can trust this honey to be good. Underlying shapes are very important to composition, as noted earlier in Why Being Odd is Good: The Principle of Balance, which goes over the rule of thirds and triangle composition.
Degrees of Separation
Typography can take shape, too. With weight (bold, light), leading, size, style (regular, italic), tracking or kerning, and word wrap, you can control the shape your type takes. Also pay attention to the shape of your body copy and remember that you can wrap it around images or make it take on shapes of its own to incorporate it into the rest of the design. An invitation to an aquarium may have bubbles in the background and you may design the body copy to fit in the shape of a circle to repeat the theme. You may recall the poet ee cummings from school. No, those crazy punctuations, lack of spacing and weird line breaks aren’t a mistake!
Remember that even if you are only using a standard rectangle for your body copy, it can still use shape. Blur your eyes to get a feel for how it sits on the page. Is it too dominant? There are many things you can do to lighten its visual weight: decrease the point size, increase leading, narrow column width, wider alley space, or break up text into multiple short columns—just to name a few ideas.
Cat Box Business Card
Have you ever thought about incorporating the shape of the medium into your design? Diecuts are a great way to use shape and they make the product unique and memorable. Diecut shapes are another way to work in a repeating shape element, too.
Shapes run rampant in the works of Catalina Estrada. She has a unique way of combining basic geometric shapes and simple organic shapes (trees, grass, simple animals and plants) within her illustrations, that, along with the bright, primary colors, give her work an innocent, child-like, playful quality. The shapes are delicate; even the ones that have a bit of sharp end—like the blades of grass or the girl’s hair—curve gracefully.
This has been the second installment in Real World Examples of the elements of design. Previously covered was line and next up are space, shape, scale, texture, value, use of color and the color wheel and color theory.. Subscribe to Creative Curio by RSS or email so you don’t miss any more of these awesome articles! Don’t know what RSS is? Check it out. And remember that May 1st is RSS Awareness Day!
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