Design Words

I’m interested in the words designers use for shapes and solids, especially those beyond the basic primaries. I’m attempting to put a glossary together and would love your input. Here are some examples of named shapes.

  1. What do you call A, B, and C?
  2. Are there any specific shapes or solids that you have a name for?
  3. Would you find a “shapes and solids glossary” helpful?
    Naming hopefully creates a mental toolkit that either inspires us with tried and true forms, or defines the box in order to think outside of it.
  1. Oval
  2. Square, circle, triangle, etc. Stuff you learned in grade school.
  3. No

My personal take:

A: Oval
B: Pill
C: doesn’t have a name

Sphere, cube, rombus

Not really. I wouldn’t; want to be confined to a set of definitions defined by other designers arbitrarily. Shapes based on math are universal and we learned them in grade school. Shapes beyond that get more subjective and less universal. I would never call that shape “tround”, I call it a “guitar pick” because it elicits a connection. Squircle is an exception, but there are infinite variations unlike a square or circle which based on math.

  1. Oval, racetrack or double-D, ?

We manufacture steel and aluminum forms in a variety of sections so we have oval Millenium tubes, and trapezoidal Trap tubes. We have that Millenium in a smaller version and called that Rex.

The discrepancies between these terms and the other’s opinions point to the fact that there won’t be ‘standardized’ names for sections/shapes and any glossary will be defined in terms of the VBL/IDL/system which it lives in. So, they will be unique to the brand or company and rightfully so IMHO.

  1. A. Ellipse, Oval
    B. Racetrack, Pill, Oval
    C. Apple mouse
  2. Nothing specific that comes to mind
  3. It would potentially be fun to come up with these and (playfully) argue about which is whic.

Thanks all! Appreciate the thoughts.
I like the “guitar pick” example, referring to common objects is useful when communicating about designs: “riverstone”, “hour glass”, “tear drop” etc. None of these can be defined, it’s true. So glossary is the wrong term. But perhaps, to borrow from biology, a Family can be observed if a Species cannot.
The goal is not to set “right” and “wrong” terms, but simply to observe and collect them for a design education goal. I have seen some of these words pop up in VBL documents, but I wasn’t familiar with them when I was an undergrad. And so far I have been interested in the discussions that have arisen when I bring this project up with designers.
I welcome any more thoughts and will continue to share the project!

I think it would be a fun document and I’m sure would spark a lot of good debates!

Look how often the periodic table of form post from like 10 years ago gets trotted back out! I’d be happy to connect you to the editors at the core77 blog once you’ve got a draft. I’m sure they would like to take a look at it.

Awesome, thank you!
The periodic table of form is great and definitely an inspiration for this project. Would be great to connect it somehow.


  1. What do you call A, B, and C?
    First, it’s not so much what we call it. It’s more about defining good words first. I don’t believe so much in social constructivism i.e. putting words in the dictionary that we started using at some point, but more in having a group of language experts define the words a society can correctly use.

So in that line, A is known as ellipse, B is an oval, and I don’t think we have a name for C.
It is important though to mathematically define the shape. Are the radiuses circular, conic or curvature continuous? Are the sides arc or Béziers, etc.
And then you can name them appropriately.

  1. Are there any specific shapes or solids that you have a name for?


  1. Would you find a “shapes and solids glossary” helpful?

Yes. But only if it meets formal requirements such as the one stated above. It would need to be crafted like a dictionary.
Also some shapes don’t need a new word but can use an adjective e.g. elongated squircle for C in the example of question 1.

A worthy endeavor, do proceed and keep us apprised.



Good distinction. I do intend this to be a reflection of words used, ideally with community input and feedback.
I also like your radius definition point. I believe there is an opportunity to explore these detailed elements within the forms. The Periodic Table of form has also been mentioned in this thread- that document speaks specifically to edges and surfaces and I believe has it’s place in all this too.

Thank you!

Haha, believe me I’m not trying to create jargon but rather make sense of it.

You could prob have a whole chapter or section on technical terms like ‘curvature’ or C2, include those crazy radius drawings from Apple Watch etc.

Here’s a collection of referenced objects so far. Keep the suggestions and feedback coming, thank you!
While I don’t think this list can ever be complete or fully defined, it’s a start. Common or “archetypal” objects is just one branch of this. I believe shapes, mathematical geometry, edge and surface definitions can be worked in, as previously suggested.
To reiterate the hopes:

  • -an observed collection, not finite definitions
    -not confining, but clarifying so as to break confinement
    -a design education aid

What if the ‘collection’ or glossary was similar to the OED in that ‘names’ had some information on who/how/when/where that name was first used. As if someone could concretely define when the term ‘ob-round’ came about.
I like your illustrations but the type callouts are hard to read.

Interesting. Thanks for sharing.