The language of forms

Something takes shape

Form runs through our world like a red thread, because everything around us has a shape. Solid materials generally have a fixed form whereas those that are liquid and gaseous can change shape, but are nevertheless not shapeless. Take for example a liquid that has been spilt. As it spreads, it takes on soft organic structures. In nature, forms rarely have straight lines. Instead shapes are mostly soft with gentle curves that often look very harmonious. Man-made objects present a stark contrast. Particularly in the modern era, their clean, sharp edges, precise use of symmetry and uniformity clearly distinguish them from Nature.

A question of style

Form also makes it possible to classify things. Just think of the rectilinear functionality of the Bauhaus school of architecture and compare it to the rich, ornamental art nouveau style. The question of style should, of course, not only be considered from a historical perspective because style is also always a matter of taste, as different home furnishings clearly show. Just as some people like modern interiors to have clean lines, definite contrasts and clearly defined edges and divisions, others prefer a large number of decorations and ornaments while some want a more rustic atmosphere. Whatever “your style” may be, stick to the old adage “don’t overdo it”. If a design is to be harmonious, it should never go to extremes, but should rather aim to soften the effect of a dominant form by contrasting accents. A cool, rather uninviting atmosphere in a modern, angular and plain interior can be counteracted by the integration of individual elements with soft organic shapes.

Appearance, touch and function

Aside from aesthetic perception, which is often greatly influenced by one’s taste, the shape of an object is governed by other factors. In this respect, function plays a role that should not be underrated, particularly in product design. This is very apparent in our everyday helpers category, which shows that small design tricks can achieve big things in design and can also be surprisingly practical.

In addition to pure function, touch also plays an important role. If an object is pleasant to touch and comfortable to hold, it is easier and more likely to be used – working with it makes the task much more enjoyable.

A good example of the successful blend of appearance, touch and function is the AluPen iPad Stylus. Its shape – reminiscent of a pencil – is pleasantly familiar. Its hexagonal shape is comfortable to hold and the satin-finish aluminium surface feels good on the skin. These characteristics have turned the award-winning stylus for smartphones and tablets into an indispensable accessory.

The message a shape conveys

Once the functional aspects of a shape have been addressed, the finer details need to be sorted out. What message should the product convey? Soft round shapes are associated with feminine characteristics whereas hard edges and clean lines create a more masculine feel. This can be clearly seen in the area of gender-oriented design. The use of a razor may be the same for men and women, but when designed for women, it takes on a different shape and design than for men. Just as a product can look more feminine or masculine, it can also be perceived as futuristic or retro, dynamic or static, classic or trendy. The differences are often minor: symmetry or asymmetry, the surface structure, sharp or rounded edges – all these effective design aids serve to make a product appeal to the desired target group.

Here are just a few examples of the typical use of shape in design:

  • Gently rounded shapes appear soft, feminine and emotional
  • Shapes with sharp edges and corners seem tough, masculine and rational
  • Asymmetry looks trendy and dynamic
  • Symmetry appears harmonious and calm
  • Filigree structures seem elegant and valuable
  • Objects with large surfaces look robust and sturdy

Incidentally, it is not just the shape of something that strongly influences our perception. The nature of its surface is also very important. If you want to learn more about this, let the book Make up. Design der Oberfläche introduce you to the fascinating world of surface design.

Perfectly formed design

A well-designed shape affects how we look at and use a product, and determines how comfortable it is to handle – and that over a long period of time. What is more, it says something about the product’s target group. Just browse through our products on Red Dot 21 and you’ll discover numerous examples of design products which are perfectly formed. We wish you a day filled with good design.

Posted on 17.06.2015

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