As I mentioned in my last post Boost your Engagement With These 3 Character Design Tips, I have a detailed chart pairing physical attributes with symbolical and psychological personality associations. If you are looking for an economical way to symbolically tell your story, this character design trait list is a good place to start.
I got this as a handout while in school at SAE in Byron Bay, Australia. I think they got it from a CGC school in Sydney. Other than that I don’t really know who to credit this concept art character design guide and character symbolism chat to, I’m sad to say.
Character Design and Symbolism
|Body Part||When small/short||When large/long|
|Eyes||Blind, Timid, Obsessive, Narrow-Minded||Young, Inquisitive|
|Lashes||Assertive, Troubled, Vicious||Desirable, Drowsy, Loving|
|Forehead||Stupid, Vacuous||Intelligent, Nerdy, Wise, Elderly|
|Hair (male)||Conservative, Efficient (Bold = Freaky)||Rebellious|
|Hair (female)||Assertive, Efficient||Freedom|
|Ears||Attentive, Clever||Deaf, Dumb, Elderly, Pixie|
|Lips||Pensive, Mean, Un-sensual, Quiet||Sexy, Talkative|
|Neck||Narrow-Minded, Red neck, Strong||Inquisitive, Elegant, Clumsy|
|Female Breats||Athletic, Impish||Nurturing, Matronly|
|Male Pectorals||Introverted, Self Absorbed, Incapable||Noticeable, Forthcoming, Strong|
|Arms (thick=protective)||Introverted, Incapacitated, Meticulous||Able, Capable, Gangly|
|Hands (thin fingers)||Artistic, Sensitive||Manipulative, Dexterity|
|Hands (thick fingers)||Manual Labor||Strong, Powerful|
|Hips||Grace, Swish||Lazy, Maternal|
|Legs||Stubborn, Slow, Dominant, Grounded||Servile, Helpful, Fast|
|Feet||Nimble, Weightless||Earthy, Dumb|
|Hair/Fur||Blue||Heavenly, Cold, Young|
|Hair/Fur||Blond||Desire, Vague, Vain, Youth|
|Hair/Fur||Green||Out of this world|
|Thin Legs||Elegance, Ungainly, Gangly|
|Sharp/Angular Lines||Masculine, Negative, Evil, Weathered, Intellectual|
|Soft/Rounded Lines||Feminine, Positive, Friendly, Young, Superficial|
|Glasses||Dumb, Self Absorbed, Intellectual|
Character Design Tropes
This link is from Masterclass and it goes over some common character design tropes such as the chosen one, the damsel in distress, the femme fatale, the girl next door, the mad scientist, the trusty sidekick, the wise old man, the dumb muscle, and the antihero: https://www.masterclass.com/articles/common-character-tropes-and-tips-for-avoiding-them#what-are-character-tropes
This article also addresses how to avoid these tropes or design against the grain, such as: Figure out what your characters really want, get to know your characters outside the story, allow your characters’ personalities to change, and avoid clichéd situations.
Symbolism and tropes are part of visual communication shorthand. They get the idea across fast and more effectively because it's ingrained in our culture, so it's instantly read and understood. It can be a powerful tool if it's used with intent and sensitivity, but it can just as easily be abused and come across as a hack treatment, a stereotype, or worse. Use caution and restraint when using symbolism and tropes and remember it's not a solution for every situation. Rely on your process for design and problem solving a character and use this guide to refine your intent as needed.