Seeing Patterns

You may be familiar with the chevron pattern that is so popular these days:


It’s emblazoned on everything from wedding invitations and iPhone cases to bookshelves and sundresses. Nothing is exempt from adornment with a chevron pattern…except perhaps men’s dress shirts.

The History

As a graphic designer, I’ve been on a quest to understand the fascination with the chevron pattern and why it recently seems so novel in printed design. Back in the 1970’s and ’80s, the chevron was relegated to crocheted afghans for the sofa. I think it is for this reason many people have some nostalgia associated with the chevron pattern, as it reminds us collectively of home and family. It is a classic design that sometimes invokes an emotional response.

Today’s chevron designs are less of an attempt to use up scrap yarn, and more of an effort to create a well-designed piece that allows us to simply focus on the repetition of the shapes. For this article, I wanted to find the simplest method to create this classic pattern using modern graphic design software.

The hunt for chevron tutorials was fascinating. The tutorials usually contained at least 10 steps, were written exclusively by women, and the techniques ranged from Photoshop vector shape layers, to manually drawing out diagonal lines onto a grid in Illustrator. I even came up with my own somewhat unconventional method using conditional text in InDesign. But why were the techniques so complicated? I decided to find out.

I prepared a short survey about this pattern and asked a wide variety of people to participate.

In a few words, describe this image:

chevron pattern

I also wanted to see if there was any difference in the way that people interpreted a single repeat of an overall pattern. Right away, I could see a difference in the way that men and women perceive and describe this geometric shape. Women were nearly three times more likely to refer to this as a chevron pattern.

In a few words, describe this image:


I theorized that how people see, interpret, and describe geometric shapes is filtered and shaped by their life experiences. Would people with different professional backgrounds interpret the shapes differently, based on how they would create them? What was so striking is that people generally describe a single zig-zag item differently than when they view many zig-zag lines together in a vertically repeating pattern.

Graphic designers tended to view the shapes as 2-dimensional. Compare this with others who do not make a living in 2D design. Those people were more likely to view the shapes as a flat representation of real-life 3-dimensional objects.

How would you make this?

chevron pattern

Learning to See

In college, I took a drawing course. We were strictly limited to using only charcoal pencils. My takeaway from that class was much more important than how to use a charcoal pencil. That class taught me how to see. Only after I learned how to see the world around me could I then attempt to draw the world around me. I learned how to visually break down shapes into their simplest form. These simple shapes, once combined, created a complete picture.

Master Your Tools

As modern graphic designers, many of us tend to gravitate toward designing 2D objects using our favorite graphic design software. The method that we choose depends largely upon our degree of mastery of the software. Certainly there are many ways to create a chevron with Adobe software, but if a designer only knows one or two methods, she may choose a tedious and complicated one because it is all she knows. Mastery of our design tools will give us as designers more options for easily creating whatever we want.

My orignal goal of this article was to discuss the simplest method for creating a chevron pattern in graphic design software. I think the reason this method is rarely used is twofold:

When creating a chevron (which is all diagonal lines), most tutorials start with diagonal lines. My method requires us to start with a straight line and then use an Illustrator Effect to transform it into a jagged line.

This method uses two Illustrator Effects. Effects are powerful tools in Illustrator, but they are buried a couple of layers deep in the menus. Many people don’t even know they exist.

The Simplest Method: Use Illustrator

1. In Illustrator, draw a line thick line.

2. Choose Effect > Distort and Transform > Zig Zag…

class=”p9″>3. Effect > Distort and Transform > Transform… (Make multiple copies with a vertical offset)

I hope that this article has shown that by mastering your software and learning to see complex objects as collections of simple shapes, you can find the easiest and most efficient way of working.


Posted on: August 30, 2013

Kelly Vaughn

Design education: ongoing at the University of Hard Knocks. I am graphic designer, technical writer, illustrator, and knitter. I own my own marine publishing company specializing in owner's manuals for custom yachts. I love to blog about InDesign, Acrobat, and obscure ways to use software to make work easier and more productive at DocumentGeek and

2 Comments on Seeing Patterns

  1. Gracias por el aporte, me sirvió mucho. 😉

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