Elements of Design





The design element shape pervades all we see. It is a vehicle for the elements of color, tone, texture size and direction.
A single shape cannot exist without generating another (negative) shape.

The existance of one shape automatically generates another (negative) shape.

Gradation in tone and color can break down the definition of individual shapes causing them to blend and merge with adjoining shapes.



Geometric / Organic

Shape can be geometric or organic. Most geometric shapes tend to suggest man made objects or mans interpretation of natural objects through symbolism or iconic representation.

These simple geometric shapes have, through familiarity, come to be recognised for the functions they symbolise rather than the shapes they are.

Organic shapes tend to suggest or represent natural objects.

Repeating geometric rectangles are kept interesting by the variation in size, color, tone and shape. The loose organic splashes provide relief from the formal, geometric arrangment.

Abstract Shapes

Abstract shapes can trigger predictable responses. The classic multi pointed star used to attract attention in advertising is a common example. Our hard wired response to snarling teeth, sharp horns, barbs and thorns is to take notice, observe and react. For many years advertising has used this inbuilt reaction to sell products.

Attention is automatically drawn to this sharp, aggressive shape.

Consider these shapes and their application to specific design requirements.

Drawing with Shapes

Artists and designers have used shape as the main structural element for drawing. By reducing the subject to a series of large, simple, correctly proportioned shapes, then breaking these initial shapes down into progressively smaller shapes as detail increases, the process of accurate drawing is greatly simplified.

Sometimes the best way to approach a drawing is to forget about the objects being portrayed and see things simply as arrangements of abstract shapes.

Start drawing with large, simple shapes, then break these up into progressively smaller more complex shapes.

Shape Complexity Preference

When tested it was found that very young children's preference was for shapes of maximum complexity. Adults and older children preferred shapes up to a certain complexity after which preference decreases. (1)

Shape 4 was the level of complexity preferred by adults and older children. Young children prefer shape 5 complexity.

Not many shapes have become as instantly recognisable as the Coca-Cola bottle. Based on the curves of the cocoa bean, the Coca-Cola bottle was launched in 1916 and is today one of the most recognised design icons in the world.

Another instantly recognisable shape is the profile of the Porsche 911. From 1963 to the present the iconic shape has remained constant. Despite the huge advances in engineering and technology, Porsche, with it’s  profile developed half a century ago, is still at the cutting edge of sports car development.

Porsche 911

“Design must be functional and functionality must be translated into visual aesthetics, without any reliance on gimmicks that have to be explained.”      FERDINAND A. PORSCHE




(1) Aronoff, J 1970, Psychology today an introduction, CCRM Books, Del Mar, CA


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John Lovett


John Lovett is an Australian artist working in oils, watercolor and mixed media. Since commencing his career John has held over thirty five solo exhibitions and taken part in many joint ones. John’s work is represented in private and corporate collections in Australia, United Kingdom, Europe, Asia and USA. John’s passion for his work and his open easy approach to teaching make his books, DVD’s and workshops thoroughly enjoyable, extremely informative and always very popular. His articles are regularly featured in “International Artist” magazine.      



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© 2017 John Lovett (all text and images unless otherwise stated)