Shapes have gained social, cultural and political significance. The dynamic primary shapes of circle, square and triangle give form to much of the physical world we see. They are the basis of the Roman alphabet. Shape can be a way of grouping and classifying information. Shape and colour are combined in a myriad of permutations to create the world’s flags. They are used to embody visual identities. Often shapes act as a container for another element. Shapes relate to our human experience of orientation: vertical, horizontal, slant, rotating and centrality. These illustrations are from a book by Arjan Groot called Universal Authority for National Flag Registration.
A point is a small dot and can be used alongside a list of words to indicate they are a list of separate bullet points. They create a focus, emphasise and draw attention to their subject. We often talk in terms of making a point. Points can also represent junction points on a diagram or map. The image below is a poster I designed based on the essay on The Dot by Armin Hofmann published in Graphic Design Manual.
A line has been described as the shortest distance between two points. As simple as a line may seem it can take many forms: straight, horizontal, vertical, diagonal, curved, continuous, broken, loops and spirals. Lines form shapes when linked to one another and make connections between other items. They can signify a direction, a boundary or a separation. Underling a word gains emphasis for that word. Lines are used in the construction of diagrams and form the X and Y axes. Lines can be used to separate categories either vertically or horizontally. They are the fundamental component of a timeline; the lines of longitude and latitude on a map; and the construction lines of grids. Lines have various thickness and lengths. They can be dots, dashes and solid lines.
Squares and Rectangles
The square is a fundamental structure implying stability and permanence. Much of our lives are contained within a rectilinear experience for example buildings, roads and computer screens. A square is a shape of four equal sides each meeting at 90 degrees. The square can be a container of information and describe a relationship with other elements. Information that is boxed out has been highlighted as having special significance. Rectangles are intrinsic units of construction, they can be placed side by side or one on top of each other forming rudimentary grids. X and Y co-ordinates are plotted on axes that are at right angles to each other. A design begins on a rectangular piece of paper, which is further subdivided into smaller proportionate units of the rectangle. Aerial photographs of cultivated landscapes reveal a patchwork of rectangles. A rectangle with dimensions is a cube. Gravity’s effect has ensured the cube has remained ‘humanity’s chief structural resource’. The image below shows the construction of a Roman letter A and was designed by Root 2.
The circle is constructed by establishing a centre point around which another point rotates at a fixed radius. It starts and finishes at the same point. The circle implies movement in either direction. It suggests rotation around a centre. The circle defines the area that it contains and the area that surrounds it by its circumference. It is a symbol of completeness, of wholeness. Transcribed into three dimensions the circle becomes a globe. Our earth, the moon and the sun are spherical. They all support our life and have significant psychological inference. Wheels rotate around a central axis. The circle is implied in the many words ending in centric such egocentric and eccentric. When we rotate in a circle we see our surroundings as a 360-degree view. The globe is a continuous shape with out beginning or end, bottom or top and sides. It is often thought of a shape of perfection and significant in geometric constructions. Stone circles have cosmic or religious significance. Domes in religious buildings often represent the heavens. The circle in its smallest form is a dot, which is the basic unit of lithographic printing reproduction; it describes tone and colour. The circle can be a container; it encloses an area; sets a boundary; locates elements as internal or external. Circles can be applied as elements in a diagram such as pie charts and Venn diagrams.
A triangle is formed from three sides meeting at three angles. A triangle formed of three equal sides is known as an equilateral triangle. A triangle formed of two sides of equal length and one odd size is known as an isosceles triangle. The triangle can represent three aspects of something. Because of its angles it can point in directions. The triangle can sit either on its base or pivot on top one of its points. The triangle is a stable shape and is used as a strengthening device in other constructions such as girders. Triangular grids can be used for axonometric and isometric projection. The three-dimensional projection of a triangle is a tetrahedron. Four triangles on a square base is a pyramid. The pyramids of Egypt are a powerful signifier of that country’s ancient history. They are regarded as one of the wonders of the world. The triangle is often used as an analogy for a hierarchical organisation.
Shape, colour and road signs
The triangle, square and circle have been used in conjunction with colour to signify specific meaning when used for categorisation of road signs. In 1949 the UN World Conference on Road and Motor Transport in Geneva instigated a protocol to govern the actions of road users. Circular signs give orders. Those with a red outline are mostly prohibitive. Signs with solid blue circles mainly give positive instructions. Triangular signs with a red outline give warnings of potential hazards. Direction and information signs are mainly rectangular. In Britain blue rectangular signs indicates information on a motorway and green indicates information on a primary route.