How can shapes be used effectively in design?


Shapes guide users’ eyes, evoke emotions, and improve usability. Understanding the psychology of shapes is crucial: geometric shapes like squares and circles convey order and precision, making them ideal for buttons and menus, while organic shapes add warmth and approachability. Symbolic shapes also carry inherent meanings – circles imply unity, triangles suggest direction, and squares denote stability.

To use shapes effectively:

  • Match shapes with the desired emotional response and brand identity.
  • Use geometric shapes for structure and organic shapes for comfort.
  • Incorporate symbolic shapes to convey specific messages.
  • Highlight important elements with distinct shapes.
  • Use shadows and layering to create depth.
  • Facilitate navigation with intuitive shape choices.
  • Balance shapes for visual harmony and use negative space to avoid clutter.

Detailed answer

Shapes indeed hold a hidden power in design. They can guide the user's eye, evoke emotions, and even improve usability.  To use them effectively, you must understand the psychology of shapes, visual hierarchy principles, and your audience's needs. 

Understand the psychology behind shapes 

First things first. Different shapes evoke particular emotions and associations in users. Knowing these psychological effects helps designers choose shapes that match the emotions they want to evoke and the brand's identity.

Geometric shapes: order and precision

A webpage with the text "Find the Right Influencer for Your Business" and two buttons: "Hire Influencer" and "How It Works?"


Geometric shapes, such as squares, circles, and triangles, bring structure to a design with their clear, defined edges. These shapes are perfect for elements like buttons, icons, and navigation menus, providing a sense of organization and professionalism. Their predictability makes interfaces look clean and straightforward.

Organic shapes: comfort and approachability

A greeting card with colorful abstract shapes and the words "Take things one step at a time".


Organic shapes, with their irregular and flowing lines, contrast with the rigidity of geometric shapes. These natural forms create a sense of warmth and approachability, making a design feel more inviting. Using organic shapes to soften the edges of a design can make it more relatable and user-friendly.

Symbolic shapes and their meanings

Understanding the natural meanings of shapes can make your design much more powerful:

  • Circles: Symbolize unity and completeness, often used to create a sense of wholeness and inclusion.
  • Triangles: Represent change and direction, useful for indicating movement or progression.
  • Squares: Denote stability and reliability, often associated with trustworthiness and order.

Add depth with complex shapes

A yellow webpage with the title "Think it. We make it." and a numbered list in Greek. A large hexagon shape is in the background.


For more intricate designs, complex shapes such as polygons and irregular forms add visual interest and depth. These shapes can break the monotony of basic shapes, creating focal points that capture attention. However, they should be used judiciously to avoid clutter. For instance, a single, well-placed polygon can be striking, while an overload of complex shapes can overwhelm the viewer and dilute the design's impact.

Related reading: How do I select the appropriate shapes for my design?

Emphasize key elements

Serverless Framework Enterprise landing page highlighting a "total serverless solution" with monitoring, alerts, and security features.


Shapes can also be instrumental in drawing attention to important elements. Highlighting a call-to-action button with a distinctive shape, such as a rounded rectangle, can significantly improve user engagement. Similarly, framing critical text or images within shapes helps direct the viewer’s focus, making the design more intuitive and user-friendly. For instance, a circle around a CTA button can make it more prominent, encouraging users to click.

Create depth and dimension

A soccer player in a blue jersey runs through a futuristic tunnel with neon lights and geometric shapes.


By using techniques like shadows, gradients, and layering, shapes can transform flat designs into immersive, three-dimensional experiences. This added depth not only makes the design more engaging but also helps guide the user's eye through the hierarchy of information. For example, using a shadow effect on a shape can make it appear as if it's popping out of the screen, drawing more attention to it.

Facilitate navigation

A website advertises a service to create the best merchandise with a minimalist design and a "Start a project" button.


Shapes play a crucial role in navigation, making interfaces more intuitive. Distinctively shaped buttons and icons streamline user interaction by providing clear visual cues. For example, rounded buttons often indicate interactivity, encouraging users to click, while icons like checkmarks or "X"s offer immediate feedback. This helps in reducing the learning curve and making the design more user-friendly.

Achieving aesthetic balance

Balancing shapes within a design is akin to achieving harmony in music. The golden ratio, a time-honored mathematical principle, can guide the proportional arrangement of shapes, creating layouts that are naturally pleasing to the eye. Additionally, mixing geometric shapes with organic ones can add character and depth, softening the overall design and making it more engaging. For example, an organic background shape can offset the rigidity of a geometric layout, adding visual interest.

Enhance impact with color and shape

Black and white website homepage with diagonal split and text "We Are Directors" and "We Are Entertainers".


Color amplifies the effect of shapes, with each combination evoking specific emotions. For instance, blue squares might convey trust, making them suitable for financial services, while red triangles can signify urgency, perfect for emergency notifications. Understanding the psychological impact of color and shape combinations can help create designs that resonate emotionally with users.

Establish visual hierarchy


Contrast and hierarchy are crucial in guiding user attention. By pairing shapes with contrasting colors, designers can create a clear visual hierarchy, ensuring that key elements stand out and the overall message is communicated effectively. For instance, using a bold, colored shape to frame a headline can draw the viewer’s eye directly to the most important information.

Combine shapes and lines

Minimalist website homepage with greeting "Hi, hello, and welcome stranger" and a tuxedo emoji.


Combining shapes and lines can lead to even more dynamic and impactful designs. Lines can connect shapes, creating a sense of flow and direction. For example, a thick horizontal line can divide a webpage into sections, each with its unique content, improving the layout's clarity. Shapes can also frame lines, emphasizing hierarchy within the design.

Create patterns and visual interest

Geometric design with a central hexagon and triangles in shades of blue, purple, and pink.


Patterns created by repeating shapes and lines can add texture and rhythm to a design. For example, intersecting circles and lines can form a visually engaging background, while a series of triangles can create a geometric pattern that adds interest without overwhelming the design.

Use negative space effectively

Web page for Folk, a collaborative workspace for contacts. Features headline "Great relationships are built on folk" and abstract graphic design.


Negative space, or the area around and between shapes and lines, is crucial for creating a balanced design. Proper use of negative space can help separate elements, making the design more organized and easier to navigate. For instance, ample negative space around a focal shape can make it stand out more.

Related reading: Negative Space in Design: Tips and Best Practices

Actionable steps

  1. Identify the emotional and functional goals of the design and select shapes that align with those objectives.
  2. Establish a consistent visual language by using a limited set of shapes throughout the interface.
  3. Use size, color, and placement of shapes to create a clear visual hierarchy and guide users' attention.
  4. Simplify the design by using clean, distinct shapes and avoiding excessive variation or clutter.
  5. Test the design with users to validate the effectiveness of shape use and gather feedback for iteration.
  6. Ensure shapes are accessible by providing alternative text, sufficient contrast, and combining them with other visual cues.

❓Questions designers should ask themselves

By asking the right questions, designers can question their decisions, find areas to improve, make sure nothing is overlooked, and reduce mistakes, leading to better, more thoughtful designs.

  • What emotions do I want to evoke? How can shapes help me achieve that?
  • How can I guide the user's attention using shapes? 
  • What is the hierarchy of information in my design? How to use shapes to create a proper visual hierarchy? 
  • How can I use shapes to improve the usability of my application? 
  • Are the shapes I'm using consistent throughout the interface? 
  • Are the shapes in my design accessible to all users?

⚠️ Common mistakes to avoid

Learning from your mistakes is important, but many problems can indeed be predicted and avoided. Based on Cieden's collective expertise, we're sharing the most common ones.

  • Overusing or combining too many different shapes, leading to visual clutter and confusion.
  • Neglecting the psychological implications of shapes and selecting shapes that conflict with the desired emotional response.
  • Failing to create a clear visual hierarchy, causing users to struggle with identifying key information and actions.
  • Using shapes inconsistently throughout the interface.
  • Overlooking accessibility considerations, such as providing alternative text for shapes and ensuring sufficient color contrast.

🛠️ Useful tools 

These tools will make your job easier and more effective.

🤝 Credits

Our content combines the knowledge of Cieden’s designers with insights from industry influencers. Big thanks to all the influencers for sharing awesome content!

📚 Keep exploring 

Never stop growing. Explore resources thoughtfully handpicked by Cieden’s designers. 

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