Gestalt Principles And Design

Designers not only strive to come up with great designs that create the best user experience, but also need to comprehend how the designs are perceived and interpreted by the user. What is the mental reaction of users to your product’s sight and how do they decode the message communicated by the creation? As a designer, you should be able to answer this question.

Visual designers need to understand the way a design is perceived by its users by understanding the driving forces behind the perceptions so as to be able to influence them with their designs. Gestalt is a psychology movement that sought to demystify the way viewers respond to the visual stimuli that designers spark.

7 Japanese Aesthetic Principles To Change Your Thinking image
7 Japanese Aesthetic Principles To Change Your Thinking

The proponents of the gestalt theory are Max Wertheimer, Kurt Koffka and Wolfgang Kohler and they relied on the fundamental principle that the whole is bigger than the sum of its components. In other words, a greater and different meaning lies in the whole than in the cumulative individual components. In the "whole", is chaos and disconnected bits of information out of which we psychologically and visually make sense and create harmony or order through a cognitive process that leads us into realizing the “whole”.

Gestalt psychologists have come up with a summary of the basic principles of visual perception (gestalt principles) that have become invaluable tools for visual designers. The principles explore how and when the human mind perceives different visual components as part of a group. The discussed principles are in their original form as proposed by Wertheimer.

Simplicity And Gestalt Principles

The principle of “simplicity” asserts that the human mind perceives things in their most simple form. Therefore visual designers need to combine simplicity with thoughtful creativity to produce stunning designs.

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat - 1884


Viewers instinctively identify objects in the foreground (figures) from those in the background (ground). Through the figure-ground principle, we can understand why and which one element in a design will instinctively be perceived as the figure and which or the ground. From that understanding designers find ways of utilizing the visual illusion to come up with designs that convey important messages.


The principle of proximity posits that objects placed close to each other are perceived as a collection or group. Even where shapes, sizes, and objects are radically different, they will appear as a group if they are close together.

Similarity In Gestalt Principles

Common visual characteristics create relationships automatically and objects that look alike are easily perceived as belonging to the same group. The principle of similarity thus focuses on how designers can create wonderful designs by stimulating a perception of similarity in their design elements even if they are not really similar. Similarity is achieved through many ways, including shape, size and color.

Gestalt Principles And Design image
Composition VIII by Wassily Kandinsky - 1923


The principle of continuation states that viewers "continue shapes beyond their ending points".  One edge of a shape extends into space to meet another shape of the picture plane. This is enabled by the mind’s perceptive momentum that propels eyesight through a line. Visual designers employ this principle to create fluid forms in disciplines like web design.

Closure And Gestalt Principles

Closure invites the eye to complete a path. The mind is prompted to complete and give form to an object with some recognizable features, but stripped-off the finer details. It is up to the designer to strike a balance between the missing information and what remains.


Gestalt principles sit at the foundation of visual design psychology, which every visual designer must understand to appreciate how users perceive his/her products and their experience with it.




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