Form in Graphic Design

Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

In this lesson, we'll look at one of the main elements in graphic design, the form. Find out what a form is, the different types of forms used, and how they can be used to convey specific information about the subject of your composition.

Getting Started with Graphic Design

So, you've decided to try graphic design. Perhaps you've taken art classes in the past, or maybe you just have a bit of a talent for art. Either way, graphic design requires you to use the elements and principles of visual art to convey a message, whether it is a concrete idea like ''Eat At Joe's,'' or creating a mood to associate with a product. While other lessons will discuss different elements of design, we'll take a look at form, for today.

What is Form?

To understand form, we must first look at shape. Shape is an area of an artistic composition with defined borders. Basically, you can tell what is considered inside and outside of a circle or triangle when you see it. Form is the three-dimensional development of a two-dimensional shape. For example, a 2D shape like a circle could be transformed into a 3D form like a sphere. In most graphic design, the addition of a third dimension is an illusion because we are still working on a two-dimensional art form. The illusion of form is created when we add shading, or other visual aspects, to a shape to indicate depth.

Example: You can turn the shape of a square into the form of a cube by adding lines to give the illusion of depth.
square and cubes

Geometric Forms

There are two basic types of forms we see in graphic design, geometric and organic. Geometric forms have uniform properties and proportions that we just cannot get in nature, making them look manmade. Think about all the shapes you learned in kindergarten. These are geometric. When we use them in graphic design, we can create a sense of order, or control, in a visual composition. They seem clean and even sterile, which can be either a good or a bad thing, depending on what message you wish to convey. Would you use a bunch of building blocks in a poster advertising a birdwatching group or a nature hike? Probably not.

Here are a few of the ideas and/or feelings express, by some of the basic geometric shapes, to help you decide when or if you want to use them in a particular design.

  • Circle: Circles convey both gentleness and continuity. Lacking angles, they have no point at which your attention is caught. They also have no clear beginning or end, so your eyes continue to go around their edges.
  • Rectangles: Rectangles, and even squares, represent solidity and stability. Basically, they seem to convey a sense of seriousness and durability, as well as sensibility.
  • Triangles: Triangles express motion, tension, and even aggression. This is because of their association with arrows for motion, and pointed objects are often associated with sword points. If they rest on their bases, they can convey stability, by looking like a mountain, but if they are askew they represent instability, as one could imagine them tipping over.

Organic Forms

Organic forms, however, have no set proportions or properties restricting them. They appear exactly how a three-dimensional object would look in nature, with all its irregularities. The forms can convey a sense of being natural and relaxed. However, you might not want such expression when advertising a construction company, or computer programming firm, where precision is important.

These squiggles and spirals are organic because they are free to turn and twist as desired.

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