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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.
Design Element - 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.

Geometric Shapes

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.

Geometric and Organic Shapes © John Lovett

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.

sharp aggressive abstract shape

Attention is automatically drawn to this sharp, aggressive shape.

Consider these shapes and their application to specific design requirements.

Abstract shapes
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.

Drawing with Shape

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 complexity preferrence

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.

Coca-Cola Bottle

Another instantly recognisable shape is the profile of the Porsche sports car. From 1948 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 Profile Shape

Porsche 359

“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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