How to Apply the 7 Elements of Design to your Work. Element 2: Shape.

elements of design example: shape
17Feb, 2014
In this second instalment of my seven part series on the elements of design, we will explore shape. While it is not imperative that you read this series in order, I do make the occasional reference to past articles. Links are provided to these articles below and throughout this article.

Other posts in this series:

How to Apply the 7 Elements of Design to your Work. Element 1: Line.

What is Shape?

Well, shape is basically the external outline of any form (object) or anything that has height and width. This could include images, graphics, and areas of text or most elements placed on a page.

The Fundamental Shapes

The three fundamental shapes of design are the circle, square and triangle. Circles tend to be passive, embracing and solid. Squares are stable, solid, dependable, conservative and balanced. Triangles are dynamic, directional and if equilateral (all sides having the same length), balanced.

Other Shapes

Shapes can take many forms but are mostly constructed from the fundamental three. Other common shapes include diamonds which are squares sitting on their points and these can lead to the impression of instability as they can appear as though they will fall over; rectangles (which are just a section of a square) are good for direction and leading the eye; semi-circles are dynamic and can be used to indicate rocking; and curved-segments (these looks like a piece of pizza) are great for indicating direction.

Shape Usage

While there are no rules set in stone in relation to shape usage, you should be careful of both the underlying meaning and directional qualities—much like when using line as discussed in Element 1: Line. Be careful not to lead the eye in the wrong direction or evoke an impression that is not suited to the design topic.


Below are some examples of how shape is used in everyday design.

Tetley Green Elements of Design: Shape

Tetley Greens by Boldinc Brand Innovation licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0

Tetley Greens

Packaging is always a great example of shape. It plays such an important part in the success of the product as there are many competing elements when placed on the supermarket shelf. The Tetley Green packaging uses strong shapes such as the ellipse which portrays a strong and embracing impression of the brand; and the pyramid window, which showcases the product, has strong directional qualities which lead the eye to the product description.

Frontify Elements of Design: Shape

Frontify Branding  by Adicto Multichannel Agency licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0


This is a great example of how basic shapes can be used to create new and interesting ones. Shapes, along with lines, play an extremely important role in logo design as they help to create strong, simple and memorable images. The Frontify logo has strong directional and encompassing qualities and has the feeling of movement—which is prefect as this product is touted as “the web specification engine”.

Organic Elements of Design: Shape

OrganicISM by BranD Magazine licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0


Remember earlier when I said most elements placed on a page are shapes? This is a perfect example. The designer has used a clever combination of traditional rectangular images alongside contoured ones, which adds interest to the page. Additionally, clever cropping of images has created new and engaging shapes. Another great example in this layout is the text. See how it’s not just text? The paragraph and heading also create shape on the page.


Final Words

So that wraps up shape. What I would like you to do next is to take note of how shape is used in the designs that you come across. Instead of just reading a magazine, look at the shapes formed on the page. When you are at the supermarket next, see what packaging takes your eye. Why? What shapes were you drawn to? What impression do they evoke?

Other posts in this series:

How to Apply the 7 Elements of Design to your Work. Element 1: Line.

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About The Author
Matt Smith is a graphic designer and principal lecturer with expertise in print media and web design. He has over 20 years of experience under his belt and has dedicated much of his career to educating others. He founded Edgee in 2014 with the aim of providing quality education for new and experienced graphic designers. With ‘hands on’ experience and qualifications in graphic design, along with a Bachelor of Education in Adult Vocation, Matt combines his passion for design, typography and teaching with his expertise in Adobe Creative Suite to develop eBooks, tutorials and informative articles aimed at helping designers of all levels improve their skills and knowledge.