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Shape Language Technique (What/Why/How)


Shape language is not like what we use to speak; it is what we use to create a design. This technique helps you to communicate and push the character’s appeal. Creating the visual elements using shape language can represent the goal of the design as best as possible.

Table of Contents

What is Shape Language?

The shape language technique is to specify the look and appearance of the background or character design by choosing a suitable shape for each one. You can make audiences understand the purpose of your design by using character shapes correctly and appropriately. There are 3 main and basic shapes in every single object you see. 

Who Created Shape Language?

Christopher Alexander, a designer, and instructor, is credited with popularizing the idea in the field of architecture and design. In his 1977 book “A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction,” Alexander established the concept of “pattern languages”.

Since then, shape language has been used in various industries, including video game development, animation, and graphic design.

Orientation of Lines

Before breaking into shapes, let’s talk about the orientation of lines. We want to discuss horizontal, vertical, and diagonal lines because it’s essential to know the differences in meanings. 

Horizontal Lines

  • Peaceful
  • Grounded
  • Calm
  • Stable
  • Peaceful
  • Grounded
  • Calm
  • Stable

Vertical Lines

  • Active
  • Power
  • Growing
  • Active
  • Power
  • Growing

Diagonal Lines

  • Turbulence
  • Unrest
  • Dynamic
  • Turbulence
  • Unrest
  • Dynamic

Shape Language Meaning

Meaning of Shape Language

Now it’s time to crack up these 3 shapes.

Triangles, squares, and circles are the most basic geometrical shapes everyone knows. They not only can help you in drawing but also in making sense. 

Circle Shape Language

Circles usually come to mind with bubbles, clouds, wheels, etc. Their roundness and smooth surface create a sense of freedom in movement. Circles are also known as stop signs in driving.

Triangle Shape Language

They are often used to convey danger, evil, and unpredictability. Triangles give a sense of action & power. They symbolize strength despite the conflict. Danger and warnings are expressed with triangular signs.

Square Shape Language

They are not flashy as far as others are. They are used to add depth to characters. Squares can give the sense of being stubborn, sturdy, reliable, and supportive. They are also used in some road signs to inform drivers.

Case Study:

Pay attention to the picture below and think about their mentioned features.

Different Orientations of Rectangle in Shape Language

The orientation of the left shape is vertical, so we can understand that designs based on this shape are active and full of power. However, the shape on the right hand is horizontal and a symbol of stability and calmness.

Shape language
Comparing shape language

According to what we have discussed so far, the picture on the right hand is calmer and more stable because of the horizontal shapes. But the left one is more active and growing based on the vertical orientations.

Shape Theory in Character Design

Shape theory in character design is a basic concept that involves using geometric shapes such as circles, squares, and triangles to create a sense of balance, proportion, and harmony in character designs.

Character shapes can convey specific emotions and personality traits. The shape language theory also effectively creates more memorable and engaging designs because it can greatly enhance a character’s visual appeal and communicative power.

A character with a round face or body shape can be perceived as friendly, approachable, and cheerful.

Shape Language in Character Design

Storytelling goes with the characters, and the 3D animation agency or designers, who create these characters, must design them to be memorable and unique.

The designers are responsible for creating their shape, personality, and attitude. Shape language in art is the critical technique that is involved. The question is, how?

Let’s see.

Basic Shape Character Design

Shape language-Pixune studio
Female clown_Pixune studio

This character from the crazy clowns’ project is designed to be fast, cute, friendly, athletic, and kind. According to the picture, you can realize the purpose of using ovals and circular shapes.

Designed by Pixune studios - Character Shapes

The square and rectangle shapes signify the first character’s sense of weight, honesty, and stubbornness.
Use character design shapes to exaggerate size and fear or heighten your audiences’ awareness of danger and intelligence in your triangular design.

How to Use Shape Language in Background Design?

Let’s use the power of shapes for a background design in 3 simple steps:

Step 1 - Pick a Shape

Select one of those basic shapes based on the mentioned meanings, which will drive the style of your background or character design.

Triangle is my choice

Step 2 - Sketch Silhouette

Use your chosen shape as an inspiration for buildings and structures. I have chosen a triangle because I want my design to be the symbol of power and danger.

How to use shape language
Using triangle as an inspiration for the castle.

Step 3 - Create Your Style

Now you can complete the design in the way you want. 

Disney Castle
Create the style you want

Final Design

Disney Castle
This design symbolized strength & power based on the use of squares and triangles

Is Shape Language Necessary?

Yes, as it may express feelings, thoughts, and concepts without the use of words, shape language can be an important tool for visual communication and design. Designers can create visual elements that convey specific feelings or ideas using different shapes and their properties, such as sharpness, roundness, or symmetry.

Power of Shape Language

As you see, shape language is one of the most practical techniques in designing character, game background design, and objects. Although there are many techniques to convey the character’s personality, the most effective technique is the one we analyzed. Basic shapes and their meanings are always in sight and recorded in mind; this is why they can walk your audiences through your goals.

1 Comment

  1. One of the highlights of the post is the section on how to incorporate shape language into your design process. I think It is a must-read for anyone interested in design.

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