Shapes, Geometry And Space In Design


Shape is used in areas of two-dimensional space that can be defined by edges. They can be geometric and organic. Shapes can be defined by line, form, space, value, color and texture.

Whether in 2D or 3D design, shapes and forms greatly affect our subconscious and are used to great effect by designers in order to convey the right messages.

Circles associates with friendship, love, care, support, protection.

Squares, rectangles and pyramids associates with stability, strength, power, balance, reliability.

Vertical shapes and lines associates with strength, masculinity, power, aggression, courage, brutality, dominate, menacing.

Horizontal lines associates with tranquility, calm, rest, weak, peaceful, composed, silent, still.

Soft curves

Sharp angled lines associates with energy, lively, young, explosive, violent, anger, rapidity, dynamic, movement.

However, the interpretation of shapes can be different in different countries. For instance, octagons mean stop, especially when combined with the color red, but that same meaning doesn't apply in countries where stop signs are not shaped as octagons. For example, Japan, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Zimbabwe, etc.


Geometric shapes are structured, often symmetrical, and often contain straight lines.

People naturally tend to align objects to the horizontal and vertical. This is based upon instinctive interpretations of the world around us, where gravity holds objects "flat" to the earth's surface.

Similar elements will be perceived as part of the same form. Even the Gestalt principle of continuity and proximity are affected by similarity.

Nature likes balance and symmetry, but perfect symmetry in natural objects is rarely seen.


Fractals often used in nature. We can find examples everywhere: water, grass, flowers, etc.

The point is that it's really easy to watch on natural objects. We often feel lightness when look at the grass or water and our state changes into opposite when we start watching on the road, buildings or other artificial objects.

To understand how it works we should understand the sequence of fractals. They basically build from one element that repeat itself many many times. Thus, our brain puts in memory one element and duplicate it automatic. So, this process does not require a lot of energy. For instance, to define each element and interpretation of it.

I think it's reasonable to think in direction how we can use fractals in user interfaces.


Space is an area that can be used in design for a particular purpose. Space includes the background, foreground and middle ground, and refers to the distances or area(s) around, between, and within things.

There are two kinds of space:

  • Negative space is the area in between, around, through or within an object.
  • Positive spaces are the areas that are occupied by an object and/or form.

Important advice. Use as few as possible types of distance between objects in one design. This will help understand your design solution more clear and reduce time on scanning an information or user interface elements. You can see that here works the same principle of similarity.


Humans tend to visually close a space by completing a contour and ignoring gaps in the figure. When something is left to the imagination, people tend to find visual images more interesting than when the entire image is "complete." People naturally fill in the missing information.

We can use this to make graphics more interesting or purposefully close a space to make objects more simple for understanding.

Symbols and Icons in User Interfaces

Cultural symbols can evolve to become universal symbols once their use saturates a majority of societies through the world.

For instance, old generations of people had a different meaning of symbols like triangle and combination of triangles, but in today's electronic interfaces triangles can mean play, action, and next. As technological symbols become mainstream they also become more universal.

Applying This Knowledge In User eXperience

This knowledge is valuable in creating a purposeful user interface.

We should always know or figure out what shapes, symbols works best with the target users of the product and what are not. Take into account location of target audience and their cultural habits to prevent from use not suitable icons in control elements.

Good UX designer should know what symbols he uses in his designs. Each stage of work with shapes and symbols should be aimed on interface effectiveness. We should avoid to use old fashioned icons, such as floppy disk icon for saving data or even hard drive icon. Stay updated with main tendencies to not be failed on this stage.

Use methods of unity and harmony

  • Perspective
  • Similarity
  • Continuation
  • Repetition
  • Rhythm

We'll talk more closer about them in the separate topic.

Always try to find a balance of elements in design. One element shouldn't overweight another. Design should be balanced to create a good impression in the first several seconds of watching it.

People should understand hierarchy in the product that they starts using. Otherwise, they will leave it after a couple of mistakes. Use shapes, geometry and spaces to show the sequence in which people should use it.

Objects should be proportionally correct to each other. Sometimes it's a harsh mistake to use very big element near with very small element. It looks like a big object will eat a small object. However, it can be made purposefully in case when you consciously use a big difference in proportion. Thus, proportions of objects should be clear in design.

Use the rule of similarity and contrast**. Shapes can be simple or complex, beautiful or ugly, whole or broken. We can use only simple shapes or only beautiful shapes regarding similarity principle. To create a contract between elements of design we can use simple versus complex objects or beautiful versus ugly etc. The same can be applied regarding structure (organize or chaotic, mechanical or hand-drawn) and size (large or small, deep or shallow, fat or thin).


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