Gestalt Theory

The Gestalt Principals are about the brain’s ability to create order from chaos through a process of organising information. Our brains naturally seek and recognise patterns. Psychology has defined these principals as:

  1. The Principal of Figure / Ground
  2. The Principal of Proximity
  3. The Principal of Similarity
  4. The Principal of Common Fate
  5. The Principal of Good Continuation
  6. The Principal of Closure
  7. The Principal of Area and Symmetry

Therefore when these principals apply the brain will perceive another object, independent of its parts. This is best demonstrated in the image below where the brain perceives a large triangle in front of the circles even though what is presented does not include a triangle, merely three circles with ‘pie slices’ removed from them. When we ignore the triangle and focus only on the circles they start to take on the shape of ‘pacman.’ The gestalt therefore is the perception of a shape other than the parts of the whole.

The Gestalt Theory can be witnessed in text too as the spaces between letters which gives these letters the ‘shape’ of words.

“Gestaltism — a human behaviour theory that describes how the mind structures and arranges visual data — suggests that human beings naturally create order out of the things we see.”



A brief description of the 7 Gestalt Principles.


1. The Principle of Figure / Ground

The two images have the same composition, however the image on the left is perceived to be a grey square (figure) on a white background whereas the image on the right is perceived to be a grey object (figure) with a hole in it (placed on a white background.)


2. The Principle of Proximity

The Principal of Proximity demonstrates how we view items in relationship to each other. As shapes are repeated and aligned we perceive them as being part of the whole.


3. The Principle of Similarity

Elements that are similar are perceived to be more related than elements that are dissimilar.


4. The Principle of Common Fate

Elements that move in the same direction are perceived to be more related than elements that are stationery or moving in different directions.


5. The Principle of Good Continuation

Elements arranged on a line or curve are perceived to be more related than elements not on the line or curve. In this example the red dots on the curved line seem to be more related to the black dots on the curved line than to the red dots on the straight line. This is because the eye naturally follows a line of curve. The relatedness of continuation is therefore stronger than the similarity in colour.


6. The Principle of Closure

We tend to look first for a single, recognisable pattern when looking at a complex arrangements of elements.


7.  The Principal of Area and Symmetry

The eye seeks symmetry, a ‘flow’ through the design.




Symmetry vs. Asymmetry
Gestalt Principles of Visual Perception
Gestalt Theory for Interaction Designers
Use Gestalt Laws to Improve your UX (part 1)


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