Abstract geometry has evolved from fine art to creative trend. See how you can use it to charge your designs with a fresh, unique style.
Abstract geometry, characterized by grids and the seemingly random placement of shapes, has become prominent in modern graphic design. You’ve probably seen it on event posters, in website design, and on packaging for new, trendy products. It might seem like a sudden trend, but it has roots in early modern art and even pre-historic art.
In the ever-changing world of contemporary design, it’s not enough to simply copy the past. Instead, successful trends like abstract geometry have found new ways to use old language. Let’s look at how you can use this flexible design trend in your own designs.
What Is Abstract Geometry?
Take the two disciplines in the name “abstract geometry” and you’ll get a pretty good definition of this art form. Geometry is about shapes, lines, and angles, and how they’re positioned in a space. Abstract art is about interpreting subjects non-concretely, often using shapes and color to communicate an idea. When you put the two together, you get elements of geometry — shapes, lines, angles, and grids — expressed in a free-flowing, non-linear way.
When Wassily Kandinsky began to create what we know as abstract art, he (and those who followed) were deconstructing the principles that guided institutionally recognized art to that point. They reduced their art to expressions of forms, colors, lines, and shapes, not unlike the earliest recognized art by humans yet discovered. Others, like the Cubists, Bauhaus, and Memphis Group, went on to evolve the use of geometry and grids, planting the seeds for modern graphic design styles.
When you start to recognize abstract geometry in the designs around you, you also might recognize that there are distinct visual styles. There are two major types of abstract geometry: styles based on regular shapes and styles based on organic shapes. We’ll discuss more about these different styles below, but you’ll start to see how these overarching categories define many characteristics of this art, and the way you might end up using them.
Examples of Abstract Geometry in Graphic Design
Abstract geometry is finding its way into design for festival posters, web design, magazine covers, and anywhere else accepting of its expressive and modern look. It’s a flexible art form, ranging from stark, neon colors palettes to soft, blob-like shapes. This makes it an ideal catch-all for the design needs of modern brands.
This example shows an informed Memphis Group style, but with new attributes like bold colors, gradients, and more geometric shapes applied. It looks positively electric compared to the more ’80s and ’90s-inspired retro style below, yet both employ hyper-modern techniques.
Using Sharp Angles and/or Organic Shapes
In these examples, we see a split in the treatment of shapes. One way is to use hard geometric shapes. Another way is to use more organic, hand-drawn shapes. These distinct styles can be used separately or in combination to achieve different moods.
Both examples show abstract forms, but you see how the differing approaches to shapes can totally transform the visual language. In the first, sharp angles and acute color blocking make for a bold, smart design. The second design is much softer, featuring organic shapes and a pastel color palette. These treatments change the mood of each design. The first might be better suited to a professional brand focused on creating a steadfast, trustworthy image, while the second is skewed towards more playful purposes, like an arts festival or a boutique brand. Regardless, each design achieves a modern look that’s ideal for new and emerging businesses and endeavors.
Another route is to use both styles in one piece. If you go this route, it’s important to have a focal point or a unifying element that helps you stitch everything together. Below, we see a bright, vibrant gradient intersected with organic flat shapes in contrasting colors and gradients. The white box and headline are an unmistakable focal point, giving the eyes somewhere to go and relegating the rest to the background. However you choose to mix and match, abstract geometry can bend to nearly all of your ideas for experimentation.
Typography and Abstract Geometry
Typography is also treated by breaking it apart, and spacing letters in unnatural ways. This can be an interesting way to set headlines, but always watch out for readability!
When you strip away their meaning, letters are just shapes, right? This makes them the perfect companion to abstract geometry designs. It’s fine to leave typography as a solid, unedited element. But, many artists choose to play with their letters and typesetting the same way they play with shapes in these pieces.
A big element of abstract geometry is negative space. Shapes are given space to breathe and be effective, and the same is true for typography. On an even plane, letters are kerned more than the standard width apart. But, you don’t have to stick to an even plane! Play with the grid to set some letters up and down, or try vertical typesetting for a super modern look. When you start to change how the letters are mapped, they begin to look like shapes and start adding to the design in a visual way.
Don’t forget that your text should be legible, as well. Stick to instantly legible patterns and keep long blocks of text in-line so that they’re easy to read. We have a few tips for playing with your text.
Colors and Abstract Geometry
The parent of abstract geometry is abstract art, so there are really no rules to mixing and matching colors with this style. There are, however, a few trending color palettes that work for different use cases and messages.
Neon color palettes dominate this design trend. From bright cobalt blues and acid greens to shocking pinks and yellows, the fluorescent range of neons is perfectly matched to the sharp angles and shapes of abstract geometry. Look for images that employ a darker neon or saturated color as the background so that more brightly colored shapes and elements are easier to see.
Another big color trend is pastels. It makes sense to pair a softened palette with the organic treatment of abstract geometry, but that’s not your only option. Many artists choose to combine soft colors with a few punchy hues to create focal points and call attention to certain shapes.
Closely related to pastels are the earth tone palettes that also work well with more organic shapes. By focusing on browns, tans, and beiges (and sometimes green), these designs lend a naturalistic approach to a sometimes mathematical-looking style.
Finding Inspiration: Take Abstract Geometry Somewhere New
You can start to see inspiration for forms and composition by looking at things in certain ways. One way is using shapes as puzzle pieces. What if the random shapes we used actually fit together to form another idea, a sort of design pun, as seen in Smile in the Mind (one of my all-time favorite books on thinking in graphic design, by the way).
This looks like what we’re discussing here. Bold and pastel colors, organic shapes, placed randomly in a distinct composition. We could arrange some typography over and around this for a super contemporary design. But wait…
It’s actually a child’s foam puzzle of a duck.
Creating a deeper meaning (like this puzzle) encourages engagement with your customer or viewer. It takes thought and planning, and a general sense of the whimsy, but we see it in plenty of classic and enduring work to make it a worthwhile pursuit.
The main idea is to use abstraction when it can support a message or a subject. Style without substance is just that. Stay educated and curious, and apply thought to your approach and style.
For more trends, tips, and tutorials, check out these articles:
- 2018 Creative Trends
- Design Trend: A Look at Memphis Style Then and Now
- What Is Millennial Pink and Why Won’t It Go Away?
- Free Swatch Download: 25 Retro Color Palettes
- Use Color Meaning to Strengthen Your Brand and Increase Sales
Cover image via VikaSuh.