We have nothing against circles – let's get that straight. There's something irresistible about a perfect circle, and humans have been fixated on the shape for a long time (unsurprising really, seeing as our entire solar system is based on the things).
But from illustration to logo design, it can feel like designers are relying on circles a little too much right now. We first raised the question last year, after a particularly circular Instagram post inspired a heated discussion on Reddit (below). But with new examples still popping up left, right and centre (such as Google's controversial new rounded icon set), it seems circular design isn't going anywhere.
The offending (to some) Instagram post is, arguably, a lovely little piece of art – good use of negative space, and composed entirely using circles. 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, are a pretty easy design fundamental to grasp. That said, it can be easy to get carried way – with examples like Uber's now-abandoned (and much-maligned) 2016 logo (below).
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'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. If you're looking for inspiration, here are 8 huge graphic design trends for 2021 – none of which mention circles.