Shapes- by Kalyani Pramod- continued

In the earlier article, we explored the fundamentals of different shapes present in our surroundings. Now it is important to delve deeper into their characteristics and how shapes play an important role in the field of design.
Shapes are the building blocks of our environment, and the meaning of shapes speaks fundamentally to how we understand our world. Along with the other elements of design, shapes allow designers to convey characteristics and emotions in a non-verbal manner.
The three major categories of shapes in design are- Geometric, Organic and Abstract shapes.
Each of these three basic shapes and their respective meanings symbolises distinct characteristics.
Geometric Shapes: 
To understand the significance of a triangle, observe its core components and how it is positioned. A triangle is stable when resting on its base but becomes unstable at its point. The positioning of a triangle can suggest action, progression, movement and in some cases aggression.
Triangles are not the only shape to have points and corners yet they tend to feel extra sharp on their edges due to their angle of convergence. A triangle in isolation is reminiscent of a spearhead while rows of them can resemble a shark’s teeth implying danger. They carry various meanings such as sharpness, danger, guidance, divinity and balance.
Ancient triangular structures like pyramids and ziggurats are thought to have been constructed with the intention of reaching towards the heavens.
Simultaneously, triangles are directional, evident in their use in compasses. An example of this is seen in the "play" button, which is a sideways triangle, universally representing the command to press and continue playing. 


Squares and Rectangles:
Squares and rectangles represent order, trust, and stability. These shapes serve as fundamental elements for organizing and delineating a design, acting as the literal building blocks of the visual world.  When stacked, they remind us of skyscrapers and tall buildings implying weight and immobility. 
The square, in particular, conveys stability, rigidity, heaviness, reliability, strength, and seriousness. For instance, an individual with square shoulders may exude strength and an imposing presence. 

Athlete with shoulder pads which makes him look imposing

Circles and Ovals:
Circles stand in stark contrast to squares and triangles, presenting a shape that is distinctly different. While triangles may exude a sense of masculinity, circles are often regarded as more feminine in nature. They represent grace, femininity and warmth. Circles’ roundedness implies fluidity and as they have no sharp edges it makes them appear friendly.

Soap bubbles


The above images make circles feel joyful, almost mischievous in  personality. The inherent quality of circles having no beginning or end connects them to concepts such as eternity and recurring cycles.A notable example is the rising and setting of the sun, embodying the cyclical nature of time.

Many meanings of circles include lightness, happiness, softness, innocence, movement and infinity.These interpretations contribute to the versatile and nuanced role that circles play in visual communication, conveying a range of emotions and concepts through their rounded and continuous form

Setting of the sun

Organic Shapes:
Organic shapes share many properties with circles as they are mostly characterised by curving lines and lack symmetry. Unlike geometric shapes, these shapes are less solid or precise, and might not have stiff corners and straight lines.
Organic shapes are often associated with nature. One would find these shapes in plants, animals, rocks, etc. As organic shapes are often free flowing they feel less stable than circles. Most often they tend to look unorganised and unplanned (as opposed to the precision of geometric shapes) which in turn gives them a feeling of freedom and fragility. Organic shapes characterise freedom, nature, flow, delicate and unpredictability. 


For example, a wave shape would be associated with freedom and flow, while a leaf or flower shape imparts a natural and delicate feel. Shape captures the essence of nature, portraying a sense of freedom and unpredictability that sets them apart from more structured geometric counterparts.
 Abstract Shapes:
Abstract shapes, also known as conceptual shapes, heavily rely on symbolism or references grounded in informed knowledge, and their meanings can vary based on the specific shape and context. They are often designed with the intention of simplifying natural shapes. Abstract shapes, commonly found on restroom doors, vehicles, escalators, logos, and other settings, serve as icons or symbols. One has to be conscious when working with abstract shapes that exist in a shared cultural language.

Restroom symbols

Stop symbol

It is best for shapes in design to work effectively in the subconscious rather than being consciously analyzed for qualities like stability or dynamism. The optimal utilization of shapes involves understanding their meanings subtly and integrating them harmoniously with other design elements. In essence, grasping the significance of shapes is just the initial step; employing their meanings subtly and effectively, in conjunction with other design elements, is crucial for the creation of impactful and aesthetically pleasing designs



Kalyani Pramod is a Designer, Artist, Fibre artist, Design teacher, Mentor and also a Director in Shuttles & Needles. She writes a series of articles in the newsletter about Elements of Design in simple non-technical language for everyone to understand the concepts easily.


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published