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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 style. 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?

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 shapes correctly and appropriately. There are 3 main and basic shapes in every single object you see. 

Look at the picture below and think about its constituent geometric shapes.

Rocket lunch by Nasa

Oriention 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

The Meaning of each shape

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

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 know as stop signs in driving.

 

  • Lightness
  • Happiness
  • Softness
  • Innocence
  • Movement
  • Infinity

 

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 know as stop signs in driving.

 

  • Lightness
  • Happiness
  • Softness
  • Innocence
  • Movement
  • Infinity

 

Triangle

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

 

  • Sharpness
  • Danger
  • Guidance
  • Divinity
  • Balance

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

 

  • Sharpness
  • Danger
  • Guidance
  • Divinity
  • Balance

Square

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.

 

  • Stability
  • Rigidity
  • Heaviness
  • Reliability
  • Strength
  • Seriousness

 

 

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.

  • Stability
  • Rigidity
  • Heaviness
  • Reliability
  • Strength
  • Seriousness

Case Study:

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

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 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 language in Character design

Storytelling goes with the characters, and the designers, who create these characters, must design them memorable and unique.

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

Let’s see.

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 studio

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

How to use shapes in background design

Let’s use the power of shapes for designing background in 3 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
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 the triangle as an inspiration for the castle.

Step 3 - Create your style

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

Create the style you want

Final Design:

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

Why use shape language?

As you see, shape language is one of the most practical techniques in designing characters, backgrounds, 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.

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