Using Basic Shapes in Graphic Design

Shapes are at the root of graphic design. They are figures and forms that make up logos, illustrations, and countless other elements in all types of designs.

Shapes help the designer to add interest or organize elements of a design. They are not strictly ornamental, either, as shapes can have symbolic meanings, invoke feelings, or be used to direct the eye to the most important information.

The Different Types of Shapes

Shapes are one of the basic elements of graphic design and you have a great variety of shapes to choose from. There are three basic types of shapes: 

  • Geometric shapes
  • Organic shapes
  • Abstract shapes

Geometric Shapes

Geometric shapes are your basic squares, rectangles, circles, triangles, and the like. These typically include sharp corners but may have rounded elements.

Most geometric shapes on web pages are created through layout and CSS. Some common geometric shapes you include:

  • Squares and rectangles
  • Circles
  • Triangles
  • Diamonds

Organic Shapes

Organic shapes have flowing lines and are also called "natural shapes." They resemble objects found in nature such as a pond (a squiggly blob), an apple, or a leaf. Most natural shapes in web pages are created with images. 

Abstract Shapes

There are also those shapes that we cannot relate to reality that are known as abstract shapes. Abstract shapes are those that have a recognizable form but are not "real" in the same way that natural shapes are. For example, a stick-figure drawing of a dog is an abstract dog shape, but another dog in a photo is a natural shape. These are the freeform shapes like spirals, cloud-like formations, and multi-dimensional shapes that have become popular in modern logo design. 

Abstract shapes in web designs are usually added through images. Some examples of abstract shapes are:

  • Alphabet glyphs
  • Icons
  • Symbols

Using Shapes in Your Designs

Using shapes properly is one of the keys to successful graphic design. The form, color, size, and other characteristics of the shapes in a layout can determine its mood and message.

Soft, curved, and rounded shapes are perceived differently than sharp, angled shapes. For instance, a company whose primary customer base is women may use circles and curves in their logo. Likewise, a business in the sports industry will want shapes with sharp lines that portray movement and action like the Nike logo.

Also, consider the invisible shapes of your designs such as the general outline for a website or brochure. Your wireframe may include shapes for the header and placement of design elements, but the boundaries may not necessarily be drawn out or outlined in the final design.

  • Shapes can be grouped or used in patterns to add emphasis.
  • The “white space” or negative space left between shapes will also significantly impact a design. 
  • Experimentation and altering of shapes within a design can ultimately lead to the desired result.

Shape Creation in Modern Graphic Design

Graphics software has transformed the way graphic designers can deal with shapes and Adobe Illustrator is the most useful tool for the creation and manipulation of shapes.

  • Simple shapes such as circles, squares, and triangles can be created with a click and drag.
  • Adjusting lines and curves using the tools in Illustrator and similar programs can create more complex shapes, of limitless dimensions.
  • Colors, patterns, opacity, and other characteristics of shapes can easily be altered.

It is important for designers to become thoroughly proficient in the use of the shape tools within their favorite software, as almost any shape that can be imagined can now be created.

Was this page helpful?