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The Meaning of Shapes

The meaning of shapes
Different shapes have different meanings

The meaning of shapes can vary widely depending on the type of shape, its context and the culture analysing it. Shapes can also be either positive or negative. Be conscious of the shapes you form with negative space as these are just as, if not more, important than the shapes you form with positive space. The common shapes shown below will be the focus on the analysis in this article.

The Meaning of Shapes

There are truly an endless variety of shapes and combination of shapes, each communicating its own meaning and message. Often the meaning behind shapes is cultural (a red octagon as a stop sign), particularly as shapes are combined. We’ll confine ourselves to a discussion of some basic geometric shapes here. Overall curved shapes offer rhythm and movement, happiness, pleasure and generosity. They are seen as more feminine than sharp shapes which offer energy, violence and, anger. Sharp shapes are lively and youthful and are seen as more masculine.


The meaning of the circle

Circles protect, they endure, they restrict, they confine what’s within and keep things out and their completeness suggests the infinite, unity, and harmony. Their movement suggests energy and power. Because circles are less common in design they work well to attract attention, provide emphasis, and set things apart. They represent and suggest many things such as ...

- community, integrity, and perfection
- the sun, the earth, the moon, the universe
- familiar objects such as wheels, balls, many kinds of fruit
- well-roundedness and completeness

Squares and rectangles

The meaning of the square
Rectangles are the most common geometric shape encountered. The majority of text we read is set in rectangles or squares. Squares and rectangles are stable, they are generally not attention getters, but can be tilted to add an unexpected twist. Overall they are familiar and trusted shapes which represent and suggest things such as...

- order and formality
- mathematics and rationality
- conformity, security and solidity
- evenness, equality and peacefulness


The meaning of the triangle

Triangles can direct movement based which way they point, they can be stable when sitting on their base or unstable when not.Triangles have energy and power and their stable/unstable dynamic can suggest either conflict or steady strength. They can be used to suggest...

- progression, direction, and purpose
- pyramids, arrows and pennants
- self-discovery and revelation
- law, science, and religion
- dynamic tension, action, and aggression


The meaning of the spiral

Spirals are expressions of creativity. They are often found in the natural growth pattern of many organisms and suggest the process of growth and evolution. Double spirals can be used to symbolize opposing forces. They are cycles of time, life, and the seasons and are a common shape in religious and mystical symbolism. They can be used to suggest...

- fertility, birth, death, expansion, and transformation
- returning to the same point on a journey
- the release of energy and flexibility through transformation
- the projection of an intention (when clockwise)
- the fulfilment of an intention (when counter clockwise)


The meaning of the cross

Crosses are seen as the meeting place of divine energies. The 4 points of a cross represent self, nature, wisdom, and higher power or being. As with lines vertical shapes are seen as strong and horizontal shapes are seen as peaceful. Everything said about vertical and horizontal lines can be said about vertical and horizontal shapes. They can be used to suggest...

- spirituality, life and healing
- transition and change
- faith, unity, temperance, hope
- relationships and synthesis

The Different Types Of Shapes

There are 3 distinct types of shapes, they are geometric shapes, natural/organic shapes and abstract shapes.

Abstract shapes

Geometric shapes are what most people think of as shapes. Circles, squares, triangles, diamonds are made up of regular patterns that are easily recognizable. This regularity suggests organization and efficiency. It suggests structure. Geometric shapes tend to be symmetrical further suggesting order.

Natural/Organic shapes

Natural/Organic shapes are irregular. They have more curves and are uneven. They tend to be pleasing and comforting. While they can be man-made (ink blobs), they are more typically representative of shapes found in nature such as a leaves, rocks, and clouds. On a web page organic shapes are generally created through the use of illustration and photography. They are free form and asymmetrical and convey feelings of spontaneity. Organic shapes add interest and reinforce themes.

Abstract shapes

Abstract shapes have a recognizable form, but are not real. They are stylized or simplified versions of organic shapes. A stick figure is an abstract shape depicting a person. Typographic glyphs are abstract shapes to represent letters. Icons are abstract shapes to represent ideas and concepts. Some abstract shapes have near universal recognition. Think of some of the icons you see in the software you use daily.

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