The Meaning of Shapes and How to Use Them Effectively in Your Design

The Meaning of Shapes and How to Use Them Effectively in Your Design

August 20, 2019

How do you use different shapes effectively and what message do you convey with them? In this article practical tips.

In every design you use shapes. These shapes form the basis of logos, websites and all other elements. These shapes all have a certain meaning. Whether you use a circle, rectangle or triangle, these shapes can reinforce your message if you use them consciously.

Different Shapes

There are three different shape types, each with different properties. The three categories are; geometric shapes, organic forms and abstract forms. Some shapes fit into more categories.

Geometric Shapes

Geometric shapes are shapes that consist of lines and are often symmetrical. This makes them predictable and instantly recognizable. Examples are circles, rectangles and triangles.

Organic Shapes

These are forms as they often occur in nature. This makes them less or not symmetrical at all. Examples are a leaf on a tree, an pointy rock or a fluffy cloud.

Abstract Shapes

Abstract forms are often derived from nature but are represented in a simpler way. Sometimes even until they are hardly recognizable anymore. An example of this is a wavy line that is based on water.

Squares and Rectangles

Shape square

Squares are shapes that are often used in graphic design, from print to websites. Rectangles and squares radiate confidence and stability. Due to their simple shape, they can easily be placed in a grid. This makes the design even more predictable and makes information easier to digest.

Because rectangles and squares are used so often, the shapes can be seen as dull. This can be prevented by breaking out of the grid.



Shape circle

Circles are often used in digital designs. Because circles have no beginning or end, they represent completeness. Just like a wheel, they represent mobility. Because of the round shape, a circle looks more feminine than the sharp edges of triangles and rectangles.

Circles can be combined fairly easily with squares and rectangles. Squares and rectangles can also be made 'friendlier' by rounding off the corners.


Shape triangle

Triangles have sharp angles and sloping sides, giving them a dynamic look. The meaning also depends on what direction the point of the triangle points.

A triangle with the long side at the bottom breathes stability, confidence and power. A triangle turned upside down has an opposite meaning; tension and instability are the emotions that dominate.

Triangles also have religious and cultural meanings. Like in the trinities 'Father-Son-Holy Spirit' or 'Past-Present-Future'. In addition, the triangle is often used to indicate a direction. For example in arrows or traffic signs.

Due to the sloping sides, triangles are more difficult to use in designs. They can be combined with diagonal lines.

Using Shapes in Your Design

Consciously using shapes is the key to a successful design. Use shapes in combination with colors and other properties to convey certain emotions.

Soft, round shapes have a feminine appearance and are perceived differently than sharp corners. A children's brand logo will use other shapes than a sports brand like Nike.

Shapes can also be used invisibly, for example in a grid layout. Here the shapes are not immediately visible, but they form a grid on which the elements are placed.

Want to see more examples? Check out our list with websites with organic and geometric shapes.