3 Basic Symbolisms in Graphic Design

  • by Lois Nur Fathiarini
  • August 28, 2022
  • 5 minutes read


Graphic design basically is a visual medium, so it’s not surprising when we find a lot of images or designs that includes symbolisms on it. In the design world, symbolism is a way of a graphic designer to convey ideas that’s too complicated to explain with mere words.

Symbolism or semiotics is the use of characters, form, colors, images, and/or daily objects around us to convey ideas.

Sometimes delivering a message through writings or in the form of speech can be too complicated or gives ambiguous meanings. Meanwhile an image has more power to break the limit of these type of languages because such image has meanings that has been agreed between people.

source: OrangeCrush

That’s why using symbolism in design can help people to quickly understand what they see. For example, a red circle usually understood as a danger or stop sign. Symbolism of the color red often used in street signs to let road users know when to stop the vehicles, or not to cross the area for the sake of public safety.

Another example is a red rose or heart which often understood as a sign of love and affection. That’s why the symbols often seen around Valentine’s Day or couple anniversary moments.

A graphic designer often reuse such generic symbols to emphasize similar messages. Meanwhile, a graphic designer can also ‘plants’ symbolism into original symbols to create new meanings, such as when designing a company logo.

Symbolism Types in Design

Symbolism in design is always developing and expanding, because every object basically is a symbol which might have different meanings. Generally, symbolism in design can be grouped into three categories:

1. Nature symbolism

Symbolism found in nature existed since Ancient Egypt. Natural symbols such as water, fire, plants, animals event space objects like sun and moon is often used to tell stories at the time. Each natural symbols might have different meanings and usually related with specific ‘human’ traits.

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For example, some companies have chosen to use bird logos to stand as the face of their brand. These animals can represent an array of traits. It symbolizes liberation, freedom, and reincarnation. Birds have symbolized this in literature as well as movies and other forms of media.

Leaves and trees generally symbolize calm, breezy, peaceful and growing feeling. A lot of famous brand combines natural symbols such as plants and wild animals into their designs becauss nature is something that alive, dynamic and vigorous. This kind of energy needs to be shown to your clients when making a design or a logo.

2. Color symbolism

Color choice in design is very important to help conveying ideas or messages to the audience. Moreover in color psychology, each color has different meanings or can convey different messages and ambiences.

Blue gives out wise, authoritative, stability and trustworthiness. This color often used by health companies, bank or insurance brands.

source: TurboLogo

Green reminds us with money and wealth, while also can be connected with nature and calmness. This color is often found in e-commerce and fintech brands, or natural conservation organizations.

Yellow is a happy and optimistic color. That’s why the color yellow often used by brands which target children as its market.

Red is an energetic color, representing passion, bravery and leadership. While pink is regarded as a feminine color, so it’s often used to symbolize women, romance or beauty.

Meanwhile, symbolism in colors can change when one color is combined with other symbolism. For example, the color red can be understood as danger when it’s paired with a circle as a road sign; but it turns into love symbolism when paired with a rose.

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3. Geometric symbolism

A bit different from the symbolisms before, geometric symbolism often neglected by designers. Geometric symbolism also has its own meanings and as powerful to convey various messages and impressions. That’s why basic shapes and geometric symbolism also becomes a basic element to make a logo design or other graphic design products.

Here are some common geometric shapes that often considerated in design symbolism:

Circle shows wholeness, cycle, continuosity or unity. This geometric form also often shows playfulness because a circle also often connected with spheres.

Rectangle often connected with stability, tradition, security, straightforwardness and assertiveness.

Triangle often used to represent transformation, movement and balance. It’s also commonly used for things related with science and power.

source: Visme

Intersecting lines shows connections or interconnections, meanwhile spiral shows growth, evolution or transformation.

Various lines also convey different meanings. Diagonal line shows tension and joyfulness. Horizontal line can convey calmness and stability. Vertical line implies aggresiveness, and zigzag line can show paths or confusion.

Generally, character of a geometric form also has different meanings. For example, a line that has straight edges and sharp corner implies assertiveness, stability, logic and masculinity. A design with a lot of curved lines often implies togetherness or inclusivity, meanwhile an assymetric composition implies irregularity or imbalance.


These are common symbolisms that a designer needs to know, especially if you want to work in graphic design world or to be a graphic designer. Symbolism is an important element in a graphic design product which makes your work more powerful. It can trigger audience’s emotional side to act according to what kind of message you want to convey.


Hello! My name is Lois, I live in Jogjakarta, Indonesia. I am a tattoo artist and I also love sewing and making needleworks. I also do watercolor painting and illustrations.

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