Let's get this straight from the start: we don't have anything against circles as such. They're definitely one of the best shapes. But haven't you ever felt that sometimes designers go just a little too far with the circles? They seem to popping up everywhere these days, in everything from illustration to logo design (opens in new tab).
There's something irresistible about a perfect circle, and humans have been fixated on this shape for a very long time; unsurprising really, considering that every 28 days there's a brilliant example of one up in the night sky. So it's only natural that the circle has been a feature in artwork for as long as humans have felt the urge to make markings on flat surfaces.
Sometimes, though, the humble circle feels just a little overused, if not abused. What got us thinking about circles was this Instagram post that turned up on Reddit:
It's a lovely little piece of art, good use of negative space (opens in new tab), and composed entirely using circles; it's a bit of a running theme within creator Goran Jugovic's Instagram feed. However when the image turned up on Reddit (opens in new tab) it attracted a fair few negative responses:
There are some good points raised here; you can't escape the fact that circles are a basic element of design, but sometimes people can take them a little too far. Circles, and other elements such as the golden ratio (opens in new tab), are a pretty easy design fundamental to grasp; we've all seen examples of the time that the CEO decided to design (opens in new tab), or at least help out with, the logo, and just ran like hell with the few basic design rules that they thought they understood, right?
And often designers will abuse the humble circle to make a design look just that little more impressive to civilians, explaining their latest designs by superimposing a bunch of circles – and maybe a few parallel lines for good measure – on one page of the PowerPoint deck at presentation time.
Always felt like a trope, a way to wow clients and make the logo look betterApril 25, 2019
The overlaying circles are just the thing you do once the actual design is finished to have something to put in the handover/explanatory documentApril 25, 2019
The Twitter logo, we're told, is constructed using 13 circles (opens in new tab), which may or may not be strictly true. Does this really matter, though? Being constructed that way doesn't make the logo any better or worse; at most it makes for a good pub fact, and it also inspired another designer to create a set of similarly circular animal designs (opens in new tab).
And it's often claimed that the iconic Apple logo was designed along the same sort of lines, using circles and the good old golden ratio. This seems to be more of an urban myth, though. Designer Rob Janoff (opens in new tab) based his work on actual apples; he sliced them into cross sections and built his designs around the curves supplied by nature.
Basically any design that features curves can be reinterpreted as a demonstration of some fundamental circular design truth in action, but it often just turns out to be wishful thinking on the part of the observer; just as we're genetically programmed to see faces in random patterns, we're similarly inclined to mentally break complex shapes down into a collection of primitives.
There's no escaping the circle, but sometimes it can feel like too many creators have focused a little too hard on it as the be all and end all of design, rather than a useful part of the larger design toolset. So go ahead and use it when appropriate, but remember: other shapes – and design rules – are available.