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Whether they’re colorful or stark, elaborate or spare, geometric patterns have long been used to capture an audience’s interest and spark the imagination. Geometric motifs can be traced back thousands of years, to when they appeared in Mayan textiles, Greek art, and ancient Egyptian pottery. Today, patterns are just as relevant as brands seek to harness viewers’ attention spans. In fact, they’re a staple in modern design that has proven to work for big and small brands hoping to stand out from the competition.
Here are 25 geometric designs that capture the beauty of this perceptive trend, plus tips on applying it to your own creative work.
1. Choose a single shape
As designer Jeremiah Ragsdale writes, “Patterns are a great way to add additional texture and depth to your designs.”
Often, it all starts with a single shape. To develop a striking pattern, pick a circle, triangle, or — in the case of this design by Ragsdale — a polygon. By arranging and overlapping it, you can build a form that will become the basis for your pattern.
Even if you don’t have a clear idea of what kind of pattern you want to create, the shape you choose can often provide all the inspiration you need.
2. Rely on repetition
As evidenced by Ragsdale’s design, repetition is a key part of many geometric patterns. Metamorphosis II, the astonishing woodcut print by Dutch artist M.C. Escher, lures the viewer into the evolution of one pattern to the next, incorporating both geometric and natural shapes.
Escher’s work proves that the use of multiple repeating patterns can create an immersive experience that inspires excitement and awe.
3. Complement geometric shapes with organic ones
Escher’s strategy of transforming geometric forms into natural ones is still employed by modern artists and designers. The contrast between hard lines and more fluid shapes can generate a strong design.
In the image below, seen in Shutterstock Editor, the effect is emphasized even further. The contrast between the black and white chevron pattern and the colorful tropical flowers at its center packs a powerful punch. In Editor, you can add your own logo and other branded elements, text, and more to fully customize any image.
4. Mix forms
The idea of mixing and matching forms within a single design might be intimidating, but the beauty — and irony — of geometric patterns is that they don’t have to be linear. Witness the work of Camille Walala, the London-based graphic artist whose work combines all manner of shapes and motifs.
Rather than distracting your audience, geometric patterns that incorporate multiple shapes can have a high-energy, show-stopping effect. Don’t be afraid to embrace your inner Walala and explore this vibrant approach.
5. Prioritize color
Stripes may have a reputation for being traditional, but there’s nothing common about these. Irish artist Maser, who has created art installations in places like Dublin and Virginia Beach, designed a geometric pattern for the Town Lodge Motel in Las Vegas (now known as the Maser Motel) for the Life Is Beautiful Festival in 2014.
Mixing bright colors with black and white, the angular stripes convey a labyrinth-like effect. Sometimes, a bright color palette and angular presentation is all it takes to turn common stripes into a dynamic pattern that’s full of movement and life.
6. Use a light touch
Just as a geometric pattern can rely on bold stripes, you can create one from filament-fine lines. The outcome can be very refined, so it may be a good choice for a corporate brand.
Try using these types of patterns on your business cards or letterhead. Their clean, professional look will take you far. Look for a minimal geometric pattern on Shutterstock, then bring it into Editor where you can customize the image with text, additional photos, and even your own logo.
7. Learn the art of tessellation
Geometric shapes aside, M.C. Escher is known for his mastery of tessellation — that is, when geometric patterns repeat without any gaps or overlapping parts. The name comes from the Greek word for “four” and is typically used in tiling, as when creating a mosaic comprised of a small repeating pattern.
Tessellation can be achieved with triangles, squares, and hexagons, along with other shapes if you’re willing to use more than one kind in your design. That makes these interlocking patterns versatile and a great option for a background that’s intended to frame a primary image.
8. Riff on a classic style
There’s no denying the influence of Cubism on Art Deco design (or the influence of geometric forms on Cubism, for that matter). The Art Deco look is still a popular choice when the objective is to develop a design that’s glamorous or has a hip, vintage feel.
When in doubt, turn to this classic movement for inspiration. Even decades after it was all the rage, Art Deco-style geometric patterns continue to feel current.
9. Channel the ’70s
The 1920s isn’t the only era from which to gain inspiration for geometric patterns. In the ’70s, wallpaper and textile designers paired patterns with colors like orange, green, and brown for an unprecedented look. Fashion label Missoni did the same for its Fall 2017 women’s collection by mixing triangles and narrow black stripes with natural tones and shades of yellow and tomato red.
Geometric patterns will always have ties to this chaotic yet passionate decade. See if its spirit has a place in your brand’s visual assets, too.
10. Create a collage
Not all geometric patterns make blunt use of geometric forms. Due in part to his background in graffiti art, American artist Augustine Kofie‘s geometric collages have a more organic feel while still featuring the hard angles and familiar geons of traditional patterns.
Assembling varied materials and forms presents the opportunity to create a geometric pattern that’s a little more unusual. Try a collage if you hope to create a pattern that’s out of the box.
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LOS, 2017 30 x 30 x 1 3/4 inches Found paper, acrylic, screen-print, ball point pen, graphite and white-out on cradled birch panel. Sealed in archival matte varnish. Finished in satin varnish. __________________________________________________ 1 of 3 recent collage works on view at the ’Adventures in Modern Abstraction' Summer Group Show @stolenspacegallery this month in London. __________________________________________________ OPENING THURSDAY featuring work by: @clarkgoolsby, @felipepantone, @florenceemagram, @jasonwoodside, @artistjeremybrown, @mad_c1, @remirough, @zest1980, #AugustineKofie __________________________________________________ Contact@stolenspace.com for a buyers preview of the show. __________________________________________________ #vintagefuturism #mixedkidmixedmedia #midcenturymanipulate #collisionist #graffuturism #builtpaintings #compartmentalize #geometric #vintagesensibility #developedfuture #abstractart #abstracción #mixedmedia #nonobjective #californiaart #westcoastart #constructionism #stolenspacegallery #bricklane #shoreditch #Othercontemporary
11. Pair the pattern with the product
In product marketing, patterns are often most effective when they embody the essence of the brand or company values. Finnish health-conscious snack company Goodio is all about quality ingredients and transparency in food production — so it stands to reason that its packaging would reflect these straightforward beliefs.
Geometric patterns can be elaborate, but they don’t have to be. There are times when an uncomplicated design is what’s best for the brand.
12. Change Direction
If you’re working on a pattern and find yourself stalled, consider changing direction… literally. In this design by creative studio Kapitza, which was featured in a collection of graphic art and pattern fonts called Geometric Book, the pattern cleverly switches from horizontal to vertical.
Just by switching up the direction of your pattern, you can create something inspired. Always look for ways to keep your audience absorbed.
13. Build a shape within a shape
Rather than conform to an existing geometric shape, why not use one to build something new? The emblem for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games uses three different rectangular shapes to “represent different countries, cultures, and ways of thinking” and suggest “unity in diversity.”
Some of the most memorable logos are those that invite a second, closer look. Geometric patterns are well suited to creating a multi-layered message.
14. Combine graphics
It’s common for geometric patterns to appear rigid. That’s not the case with the labels and packaging for Wölffer No. 139 Dry Rosé Cider. London-based IWANT Design, the agency behind the branding, softened an angular cube pattern by combining it with flowers and pin-up girls for an effect that The Dieline called “messy, lovely, loud, charming, confident, relaxing, and fun, all at the same time.”
It may not seem intuitive to mix graphics that are polar opposites, but geometric graphics and photography can complement each other in unexpected ways. You can easily mix patterned backgrounds with photos in Shutterstock Editor. Start with a photo, then use the search tool to add as many additional photos as you want. Top off your design with text and your own logo for a fully branded look.
15. Recreate an everyday object
When social media app Instagram released its new logo, feedback was mixed. No one can deny, however, that the use of geometric shapes to convey a camera was clever and effective on smaller screens where simplicity counts.
Making good use of negative space, the Instagram logo is a fresh take on an old shape, and has geometric design to thank. Here, the pattern of round-edged squares and circles is as obvious as the purpose of the app itself.
16. Turn negative shapes into a positive
Negative space has a place when it comes to pattern-making, as well. As noted by ReFuel4, “Negative shapes and contrast need to work well together as they are designed in a way to create viewer’s participation in comparing the various components.”
To achieve this effect, start with a background of your choice and use shapes and white space to create your design. The possibilities are endless. For a geometric look like this, choose a tropical background from Shutterstock, then bring it into Editor. Use the shapes and lines tool to draw your own mesmerizing pattern on top of the image.
17. Reference suprematism
As Fast Company explains, the Suprematism art movement was based on the idea that artists could “convey specific impressions through the interaction of squares, rectangles, circles, and triangles.” Many artists and typographers have since experimented with this style of design, as well as the theory that a black square is the most powerful form of all.
Take a cue from them and make a black square the basis for your design — especially if you’re going for a modern, graphic look.
18. Pique interest with a color gradient
A geometric pattern that’s totally unadorned can, at times, pose a problem. If it’s too stark, it can be perceived as boring. How do you mitigate this risk? Some designers rely on a color gradient to liven up a pattern that might otherwise read as bland.
Furniture and home goods retailer West Elm’s bedding demonstrates the effectiveness of fading from white to gray and marigold. The technique transforms a simplified pattern into something far more exciting.
19. Create an optical illusion
Another benefit that geometric design has going for it? It lends itself well to creating an optical illusion. With a pattern that fools the eye and mind into seeing movement where there is none, you can keep viewers engaged for a longer period of time — which could be a plus if your pattern is destined for a digital or print ad.
If you plan to use your pattern for multiple purposes, like an email header and a Facebook or Twitter cover image, you’ll want to make sure the integrity of the illusion remains intact. In Shutterstock Editor you can preview the pattern in each format size and adjust it accordingly so that your email subscribers and social media followers all get the full effect.
20. Eschew symmetry
Geometric patterns have a reputation for being symmetrical, which makes sense when you consider the straight lines of geometric shapes and the opportunity for uniformity that they provide. Designs like this one turn that idea on its head. Created for Cole and Son Wallpaper, this pattern is still geometric, but trades the predictability of symmetry for a surprising prism motif.
Geometry and symmetry may go hand in hand — and let’s face it, symmetry can be stunning — but straying from a more traditional application of shapes can have big impact on viewers.
21. The more detail, the merrier
On the flip side of pared-down patterns you’ll find highly detailed motifs that blend countless shapes to keep the eye moving. Pom Graphic Design channels Aztec patterns for elaborate paintings and drawings that can be applied to home decor items, apparel, and other consumer merchandise.
Depending on your needs and style, you may want to do the same. Tribal motifs like these are a good fit for brands that embody nature, culture, and an outdoor lifestyle.
22. Play with perspective
If you decide to stick with a single shape, why not add visual interest by experimenting with perspective? In this Wedgwood Byzance bone-china design, the pattern gets smaller and smaller as it recedes into the background.
The tunnel effect emphasizes the natural shape of the plate. Even if you aren’t working with a circular asset, though, playing with perspective can really enhance your pattern’s impact.
23. Sculpt a design
The cover of The Flame Alphabet, a novel by Ben Marcus, shows us that a layered cut-paper pattern can add a lot of richness and texture to a design. As a reference to the flame in the book’s title, the stylized triangles in shades of orange, red, yellow, and blue really stand out on the shelf.
Geometric shapes gain depth when cut and layered create a design, such that the pattern becomes a sculpture on the page. Next time you’re designing a pattern, consider this alternative approach.
24. Go three-dimensional
Triangles and cubes, among other geometric shapes, work well when presented as 3D objects that appear as though they could be plucked from the page. The same goes for rug designs, like this custom pattern by Martin Patrick Evan.
The pattern’s substance comes from both the positioning of the cubes and the the subtle variations in tone. It’s a strategy that produces an absorbing end result.
25. Take a chance
Think your patterns need to match perfectly? Think again. The designs in Ikea’s limited edition BRAKIG collection feel autonomous, yet they harmonize with each other because they employ a common shape.
Above all else, when you’re designing with geometric shapes, don’t hesitate to take a chance. These patterns can withstand experimentation, and produce some pleasantly surprising results.
You don’t need to have aced geometry class to maximize this trend. Whether you’re creating a web page, a mailer, or a gallery-worthy work of art, geometric patterns can help you develop an engaging and memorable design. Try Shutterstock Editor for your next geometric pattern design. Simple yet powerful tools like shapes, text, filters, and more let you customize any image for a branded design.
Top image by Kaidash_a