Design Element 5: Shape

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Lines evolve into space. Shape is a two-dimensional area confined by an actual line or implied line (an edge for example). In drawing shapes are created when the ends of lines are joined to enclose areas.
There are two primary types of shapes we can use – Geometric and Free form.

Geometric shapes are like squares, triangles and rectangles. They are described in mathematical terms, are regular and precise and are often found to depict man-made things. They are easier to reproduce and create things with.

Free-form shapes (Also known as organic shapes) are difficult to define. They are uneven and irregular, and more found in nature. They look like clouds, puddles, leaves, trees, rocks, etc.

Shapes can also be positive or negative, depending on how they are used. Positive shapes are the subject of the art and negative shapes are formed in the background of the positive shapes. These two occur in tandem.

Abstract shapes are used to trigger predictable responses, in the form of sharp, aggressive shapes. An example of this is a pointed star used as an alert. Many times they have predecided symbols with meanings like the following:

Shapes can be created innovatively without lines as well, possibly with text as seen below:

Guidelines For Using Shapes
1. It is important to think about what is the most appropriate way to use a shape, depending on whether it is a photograph, illustration, block of color or a block of text?
2. Remember, less is more, don’t drag you viewers eyes all over the place by using too many shapes.
3. Think about placement. If you have a large block of body text, will the design benefit if you break it up using shapes? It can be tiring for a reader to read long sentences that run the whole way across a web or printed page. Use columns if it’s appropriate.
4. Are the shapes you’re using leading the viewers eye to the right places? Consider the user experience as well.
5. Don’t add shapes purely for decoration purposes as they are a powerful tool in communicating a message.