Gestalt Principles

Gestalt principles describe how our brain takes visual elements and frames, or consolidates, them into a visual organisation that we are familiar with. We are wired to see structure and patterns; they help us make sense of our environment. The name ‘Gestalt’ was given by a group of German psychologists who developed theories about how people perceive the world around them and the power that psychology has to determine visual communication.

These principles give us a set of guidelines to help us become better information designers. Aesthetics are very important but for communications to be understood clearly, function must always come before form. Gestalt principles demonstrate that we order our experience by means of systematic order – we ‘like’ pattern, structure and logic. So, what do they mean and how do we make use of them? They help us to make design decisions about which elements will be most effective in different contexts, eg, separating elements by means of colour or distance help differentiate one set of elements from another and prevent misunderstanding and ambiguity. We can use them to direct attention to specific focal points and guide users through processes, for example.

Similarity

This principle states that if elements seem to be similar, we group them together and assume they have a common function. We have contextual clues in the picture above; we know the word is Gestalt so we are already predisposed to order the arrangement of circles into the letter ‘G’ and we easily accept it as a letter as it conforms with our letterform schemas.

Common Fate

If elements appear to be moving in the same direction as being related  to one another. Our brains simply see direction and then imposes a logical progression… we could easily imagine the letter E fading out to infinity.

Continuation

When we see elements in a curve or a line, we see them as related and distinct from other elements.

Figure Ground

This principle states that we actively perceive objects as being either background or foreground. We can use this principle deliberately for interest or to direct focus mindfully. The Middle ‘T’ in the word above plays with foreground and background so you either see a table or two people’s faces.

Closure

If we are presented with seemingly disparate elements our brain tries to discern a meaningful pattern within them. In other words,  we fill in any ‘blanks’ to make something recognisable. We see a capital ‘A’ in the picture above despite it missing one side.

Proximity

The principle of proximity states that elements placed close to one another are more related than elements more distant. The power of proximity overrides colour, size and shape. Proximity is a strong guiding principle for page layout , arranging elements like images and text to create a cohesive flow.

Symmetry

This principle states that if elements are symmetrical, we perceive them as a single group or object. The letter ‘T’ above is clearly split down its vertical axis yet is still an obvious T.

Being able to consciously identify key elements of communication from your designs is a strength; there is real power that comes from being able to identify and articulate what makes your designs meaningful and strong vehicles to carry your communications with clarity. The more you become conscious of how and why your design works the better you are able to communicate.