Organic Shapes in Design: Definition & Use

Instructor: Sunday Moulton

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

In this lesson, we discuss one of the key elements of graphic design: shape. Specifically, we address organic shapes, how they differ from other shapes, and how they are used to create specific designs and convey emotions in graphic design projects.

Organic Is More than Fruit

These days, the term organic is usually used in reference to produce grown without pesticides, but many things can be organic. In graphic design, shapes can even be organic when they express a kind of freedom to their edges or rebellion against the patterns and rules that define geometric shapes.

What Is Shape in Graphic Design?

Before we dive into organic shapes, let's look at what we mean by shape in graphic design. Shape is one of the basic visual elements in design and is defined by boundaries created by lines, where their property of color or texture meets an area of a different color or texture, or where a negative space is created when the shape is left empty.

Types of Shapes

There are three types of shapes used in graphic design: geometric, organic, and abstract. While we'll focus on the organic shapes in this lesson, you should definitely understand the other two as well, if for no other reason than to differentiate between them.

A) Geometric Shape, B) Organic Shape, C) Abstract Shape

Geometric Shapes

Geometric shapes can be likened to the basic shapes of circles, squares, and triangles you learned in grade school. They are well-defined and have perfectly straight lines or consistent and regular curves. You probably need some kind of tool to create a geometric shape, like a ruler, protractor, or compass. These shapes aren't just limited to the regular shapes we learn in school though; they can be any shape that looks man-made with distinctly organized rules, lines, and curves.

Abstract Shapes

Abstract shapes refer to shapes created by abstracting the basic elements of a shape found in the real world to create a simplified representation. Take a stick figure for example. Not one part of it looks like a real part of a human body, yet when we look at it, we definitely recognize it as representing a person.

Organic Shapes

Organic shapes are defined by not being regulated by patterns or exact dimensions in their angles, curves, or lengths of lines. In fact, they are just like shapes we find in nature with all the randomness and freedom you might see in a rock formation, a tree branch, or a leaf chewed by an insect. Most times, you can draw these shapes without using any equipment besides your hand and your pen or pencil.

This leaf is a prime example of an organic shape we could use in design.

Uses of Organic Shapes

While organic shapes are irregular and uneven, they are more emotionally pleasing to look at than the strictly regulated geometric shapes. This doesn't mean they are better, but when we want to convey an emotional message or a sense of calmness and naturalness, organic shapes serve our purposes best.

Imagine being asked to create a flyer for a nature hike. Would you use a lot of squares and triangles in your design, or would it feel more appropriate to draw wandering lines, leaves, and irregular objects? You probably picked the second option.

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