Exploring the Principles of Gestalt

Ademilola Adewumi
5 min readOct 18, 2023

What is Gestalt?

Have you ever observed a flock of birds flying across the sky and noticed that they sometimes take the shape of “V”? It may seem like the birds are intentionally forming the letter. Still, it’s more likely that our minds are trying to find patterns in their flight paths. Our brains have a natural tendency to simplify complex images or patterns that contain different elements, so it’s not uncommon for us to see recognizable shapes in the world around us.

Gestalt is a school of thought that explains how the human brain perceives experiences. It emphasizes understanding the whole person and their experiences, rather than breaking down behavior or perception. It focuses on the way elements are organized and structured in our minds, creating a meaningful whole out of its parts.

What are Gestalt Principles?

The principles of Gestalt explain how humans simplify visual information into patterns to understand our environment.

Principle of Similarity:

This suggests that elements or images that look alike should be grouped based on their shape, color, size, etc. For instance, consider a pack of Smarties chocolate candies in various colors. If you pour them on a table, your brain will automatically group the chocolates with similar colors. Similarly, if the chocolates come in different shapes, your brain will group the chocolates with similar shapes together. Another example of this Principle is the use of links in articles. Links are usually highlighted differently than the rest of the text, making them stand out and noticeable.

Principle of Closure:

This explains how, sometimes, our brain can complete an Element or Image even when it’s incomplete. This happens when we see an incomplete picture or image, and our mind fills in the missing gaps to create one complete image. The brain fills in missing parts to complete outlines. The EA appears incomplete in the image provided above, but our brain fills in the missing parts to complete the image.

The logo of EA sports

Principle of Proximity:

Our brain naturally tends to group objects, elements, or images close to each other in space. For instance, imagine the stars in the sky are scattered, then a few stars are close to each other. Your brain would automatically group them because of their proximity. In real-life scenarios, you can see this in a TV remote where the buttons for the same functions are grouped together, like volume change, channel change, etc. This arrangement of buttons makes navigating more straightforward and convenient for the user.

Principle of Continuity:

This Principle explains how our brain sees a pattern as continuous and flowing even when the information is incomplete or interrupted. This Principle suggests that when we see a pattern or a line, our brain tends to follow it along the smoothest path possible, even if it means extending the line or pattern beyond its actual endpoint. An example is the migration of birds; when they fly, it looks like the letter V. In a “V” formation, our eyes detect a continuous flow despite separate birds. Graphic designers often use this Principle to create visually appealing designs that are easy to understand. By using continuous lines and shapes, designers can develop a sense of flow and movement, which can help guide the viewer’s eye through the design.

A picture of birds migrating

Principle of Figure ground:

When you look at this picture, what do you see? A vase or two faces? You could see either one, and both interpretations are correct. This image is often called the “Rubin vase” or “Two Faces One Vase.” It is a classic example of the Principle of Figure-Ground.

The Principle of Figure-Ground is how our brains differentiate an object from its surroundings. It explains that our perception of an object is influenced by its shape, size, color, and the background against which it is viewed. In other words, the figure is the object that stands out, and the ground is the background, just like in the image of the Rubin vase.

Principle of Symmetry and Order:

The Principle of symmetry and order is a concept in psychology that suggests that humans tend to perceive objects and patterns that are symmetrical and orderly as more beautiful and aesthetically pleasing than those that are asymmetrical or disorderly. This Principle is often used in art, design, and architecture to create visually appealing and harmonious compositions.

A symmetrical wallpaper

In conclusion, the principles of Gestalt theory provide a framework for understanding how our minds perceive and interpret visual information. These principles help us recognize patterns, group similar objects, and fill in missing information to create a complete picture of our environment. By studying these principles, designers, artists, and psychologists can create visually appealing and practical designs that are easy to understand. Understanding how our brains process visual information can help us better understand and appreciate the world.

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Ademilola Adewumi

A psychology student. A writer. I love God, music and cookies.