The Deeper Meaning and Purpose Behind Shapes in Web & Graphic Design

a photo of shapes

Sometimes in web design, a clean website is often the best choice for certain clients. Instead of elaborate backgrounds or too many aesthetic choices, sometimes it’s better to settle for less is more. So, rather than designing an intricate background, it may be better to use monochromatic or one-color backgrounds or symmetrical shapes and polygons for your website background rather than actual drawings.

But did you know that the shapes you use in your web design can have an overall effect on people looking at your website? When used right, it can complement your client’s business and make their website look more appealing. Use the wrong type of shape, and you may confuse potential clients who may be discouraged from browsing your client’s website.

Here are some of the meanings behind simple shapes in design.


Triangle symbols are often full of meaning as the symbol dates back to ancient civilizations. In web design, though, a triangular shape can have different messages depending on how it is drawn or positioned. Unlike other geometric shapes, triangles imply motion as its shape directs the eyes towards the tip.

A background image with triangle styles
Photo from Monicore – Pixabay

For example, an upwards and downwards triangle symbolize male and female, respectively, but in design, a basic triangle pointing upwards represents authority, power, and direction. This is why traffic enforcers use triangular street signs pointing upwards cautioning drivers and pedestrians. On the other hand, triangles that point downwards are less balanced (seeing as the tip is at the bottom and isn’t a very good base compared to an upright triangle), but it does provide direction.

Businesses that use upright triangles in their logo want to establish themselves as a key authority figure in their industry, while downwards-pointing triangles establish their ability to innovate. For example, Mitsubishi’s logo helps establish that it has been one of the key players in the automotive industry. Therefore, people should trust their brand because they have experience and provide tried and tested service. Pontiac’s logo, on the other hand, points downwards to reference a dart. This tells customers that Pontiac has the direction and precision that provides high-quality products.


Circles are trendier shapes used in more modern forms such as web design and graphics rather than print projects since most print materials are made in square/rectangle shapes that clash with circular designs.

A background image of circles of different colors
Photo from Geralt – Pixabay

Circles suggest movement, completeness, energy, power, and infiniteness. Because it suggests movement and action, it is often used to get browsers to move or do something on their page. Whether it’s a button to interact with, call-to-action, or timer, circles are difficult to pull off right. So, if you use it correctly on your design, you can bet that it’s going to attract the attention of people browsing your client’s page. In logos, however, it’s the opposite as plenty of company logos are circle.

So, when dealing with web design, use circles sparingly to keep them eye-catching. But with logos, it’s best to find another shape if you’re looking to make your client’s logo stand out from its competitors.

Squares & Rectangles

The default shape for monitors, phone screens, and any web-browsing device, square and rectangle-themed designs are quite basic and relatively easy to pull off. However, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of quadrilateral-shaped web and graphic design, and it’s much harder to stand out with this shape.

A photo of two colored boxes
Photo from PIRO4D – Pixabay

Because of their standard usage in web design, squares and rectangles signify equality, balance, and conformity. When you browse through any given web page, you may see plenty of squares: from the ads to the content, to the drop-down options, to all the suggested related content at the bottom. It’s easy to build squares and rectangles together than, say, squares and circles on a page. As such, a person who sees a web page full of quads are more likely to feel at ease because of how easy it is to fit these shapes into one page.

However, too much of squares and rectangles can make your web design look overloaded. In some cases, it may even look too plain – you can find like a hundred other websites that share the overall look. In such cases, you’ll need to think out of the box (pun intended): whether you curve the edges of your squares or play around with the borders or frames, you’ll want to achieve a sense of comfort but at the same time stand out among other websites.

Graphic and web designers have an eye for style, but sometimes we may get a bit comfortable using the same elements over and over again. These are just three out of many shapes (we haven’t even discussed polygons and other shapes outside of geometry) you can use for your client, but keep in mind that each shape has a certain message or effect on your client’s customers.

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About the Author: Muhammad Abdullah

Tech geek, movie enthusiast, polymath.

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