The word “gestalt” in German, means ‘shape’, ‘form’, ‘essence’ or ‘whole’. This is a theory of visual perception developed by three German psychologists : Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Kohler and Kurt Koffka at Frankfurt university. There are eight laws under this theory which explain our various cognitive psychology.
Why are these principles important?
This theory plays a very important role in every creative field and helps the designers to develop their cognitive psychology and see things beyond what they actually are. It helps us to interpret this complex world in a more simple and coherent whole.
- It helps you to understand which of the various design elements are most effective in a given instance. e.g., when to do or not to do background shading, when to use gradients, and how to group similar items and distinguish different ones.
- Our visual perceptions are highly influenced by these laws, and hence allows you to focus more on specific points, therefore, get us to take specific actions, and create our designs accordingly.
- And last but not the least, user’s problems or needs are addressed in a more easy and intuitive way which helps to design products that are more consumer friendly and aesthetic at the same time.
1. Principle of figure & ground
The human brain tends to isolate the visual field into figure (foreground) and ground (background).
The foreground is considered to be the positive space and the background as negative space.
It tells you subconsciously where to focus more.
The artwork on the left, was designed by Shigeo Fukuda, a Japanese designer in 1975. This is one of the famous artworks depicting the principle in the most impeccable manner.
And the artwork on the right, is a poster from the Melbourne food & wine festival , 2007.
In both the artworks, if you notice, the foreground and background are completely separated but when visually looked at, together, makes a very cohesive art-form. Using this principle, you can make interesting designs, without having to do more.
2. Principle of similarity
Design elements tend to be grouped together by the virtue of their similarity. Our brain tends to make up a relationship between similar elements within a design space, using elements like shapes, colours and sizes. Objects that stand out are called ‘anomalies’.
On the left, is a very famous painting called ‘The starry night’ by the Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh and is a very prominent example of ‘law of similarity’. In Spite of using similar kinds of brush strokes throughout, we can clearly make out each object on the canvas. This is because of the similarity of colours & direction of the brush strokes used to depict a particular object.
Similarly, on the right, is a pseudoIsochromatic plate is another great example of ‘Principle of Similarity’.
3. Principle of proximity
Elements eg. various shapes which are placed in close proximity to one another tend to create a more complex image than they would appear if placed farther from each other. It has a very strong impact on the human brain and sometimes tends to override the colour or shapes.
If you take a close look at the below picture (left), you will find that it is just a combination of dots and nothing else. But your mind perceives it as a complete image of an eye because of the closeness or proximity of various dots.
Following the exact same principle, in the photograph on the right, the man appears to be kicking the sun like a football.
Today’s technology is based on this visual perception law where the pixels are put together to create different images on your digital screen.
4. Principle of continuity
Our mind has a biased visual perception to notice objects in continuous shapes or forms rather than disconnected ones. It just allows our mind to have a continuous flow with help of paths, lines and curves of various things.
Below on the left side is a picture depicting the logo of the Hotel association of Canada and on the right is the logo of the famous Chanel CNN. These logos have a sense of movement because our mind tends to move through one object to another one beyond its end point.
5. Principle of closure
Our mind, while looking at a complex set of visual elements, interprets it as a single recognisable pattern rather than separated objects. It tends to fill in the missing parts and form a complete image.
Below, on the left, is a logo of the World Wildlife Fund and on the right, is the logo of Formula 1 racing cars. In these pictures, our mind automatically seems to complete the image of the panda and one respectively, even if many of the lines aren’t actually there.
6. Principle of focal point
It states that any design element, if unique among the lot or stands out visually among others, will automatically attract the attention of our brain first.
On the left is a fantastic example of ‘principle of focal point’ being used in architecture. It is by the virtue of arrangement of the stairs that the focus is directed automatically towards the top.
Similarly, on the right side, is an image of the logo of the United Nations depicting the law in the most convenient way.
7. Principle of symmetry
It says that our brain tends to see complex or ambiguous objects in as simple a manner as possible, breaking down each complexity into simplicity. For example, if you see this monochrome logo of olympics, you will realise it as five circles rather than just various curved lines amalgamated together.
One of the seven wonders, the Taj Mahal, is an exemplary specimen of symmetrical architecture built in 1632 by the great Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. (on the left)
The last supper was a masterpiece created by Leonardo-Da-Vinci in 1498. It is the most familiar example of an artist’s creative use of symmetrical balance. (on the right)
8. Principle of common fate
This principle called “common fate” was not originally included in the laws. The importance of this principle in the field of design can’t be ignored. It states that elements moving in the same direction are perceived as more related than elements that are stationary or are moving in another direction.
On the left is the iconic album cover for The Beatles Abbey Road. This is one of the very few examples which depicts both ‘continuity’ and ‘common fate’. The four men moving towards right I.e., in the same direction is an example of common fate whereas the lines on the road represent ‘continuity’.
On the right, is an example, representing this law very clearly where we see all the rockets flying in the same direction.
Gestalt’s principles of design are very vital in the field of design and architecture. They help the designers to design things which the users understand and find what they are looking for; at a glance. They tend to dictate how your viewers interact with your design. The basics of this theory are pretty simple to understand, the actual trick lies in understanding how they influence design and to apply them in your own designs. But if the basic concepts are clear, a bit of practice could lead you to a long way. Moreover, these principles can also be used with the combination of one another in order to create a more visually perceptive design. Many famous designers like Leonardo-da-Vinci have been using such principles in his works since time immemorial. There are many instances where the designers/architects themselves are not aware about using this theory in their artworks, as designing using these laws are almost instinctive.