How the Kibbe Body Types Work: Shape Language

In this post I’m going to be combining two concepts that I’m very interested in, the Kibbe body types and a concept called shape language, which is practiced in art, design, and animation. Don’t worry if you don’t have any experience in art, design, or animation, because shape language is a fairly straightforward concept, that intersects with the concepts and ideas behind the Kibbe body types.

What is Shape Language?

Shape language is the design principle that shapes can be used to communicate ideas.

As a very simplified example, circles are often seen as gentle and approachable, squares as strong and stable, and triangles as active and quick. When designing characters, especially for cartoons or animations, these principles are used to communicate things about the characters visually.

This, I think in part, plays a role into the “personality stereotypes” that are associated with the body types. You can have any combination of personality and body type, because your body type should not define you.

The more complex use of shape language, and the part that intersects more with the body types is using shapes to create visual harmony. When you decide on a shape to use when designing a character or an environment, it’s important to repeat that shape to make the design look intentional and fluid. It would look disjointed if a character whose silhouette was based on triangular shapes had clothing designs that are entirely circle based. Likewise, it would look awkward if a round-shaped house was filled with only square pieces of furniture.

The reason the Kibbe body types works so well is because creating harmony with the shapes of our bodies makes us look very intentional with our appearances, not because of the personality traits we have associated with certain shapes or certain body types.

I’m sure I’m not alone in my experience of having spent far too long planning out an outfit for a special occasion, or just for fun, and then once the outfit is on, it just looks… wrong. I once spent 30 minutes when I was younger trying to craft an outfit and then once I put it on it looked completely unintentional. Like I had just grabbed some random pieces and threw them together. It didn’t look like I had spent 30 minutes trying to put together an outfit, it looked like I had gotten dressed in a rush, even though I had accessorized and color coordinated the look.

On the other hand, I’ve also had experiences where I’ve thrown together an outfit really quickly and it ended up looking really good, despite my lack of effort. It looked like I had put intention behind my outfit, like I was trying to look good, because I did look good!

The difference between those experiences, the thing that I didn’t know, is that the outfit that I had crafted in my head didn’t suit my body type, and the outfit that I had quickly thrown together did.

That’s the beauty about the body types, and that’s the “why” behind my writing about the body types. Because once you understand the lines and shapes behind your body type, you can repeat those lines and shapes in your outfits. And it will take intention at first. You’ll need to think about the pieces you put together and how you style them. But once you get practice with doing that, you’ll be able to do it on an intuitive, or instinctive level.

That’s also why I don’t believe there should be a limitation of style placed on top of the body types. Some styles may have elements or motifs that mirror more with a specific body type, however there are still ways to make them align with the shapes and lines of your body type. To use a different art comparison, the body types are like art mediums, and the clothing styles are like, well, art styles. Whether you use oil paints or colored pencils, you can still convey surrealism, or realism, or abstract. You just have to adapt the style you use to the medium you convey it in.

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