The 5 Principles of Gestalt

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The five principles of Gestalt are simple but influential laws of visual perception, stemming from Gestalt theory in psychology. The theory explains that, if certain principles are applied, humans tend to visually perceive layout, structure or "whole" over their individual units. In essence, humans then perceive the whole structure or pattern over the sum of its parts.These principles have become popular within many disciplines, including music, linguistics and visual art and design, since can they provide explanations about the effects on human perception during communication.


The principle of similarity states that if objects or units look similar to one another, then they will be visually perceived as part of a group, structure or pattern. For example, if units share similarities in characteristics such as shape, color or size, the human mind will group these units together. Following this principle, the visual focal point becomes that which is dissimilar or anomalous to the others. The principle of similarity becomes very powerful in fields such as graphic and Web design.


The good continuation, or continuity, law of perception states that humans seek relationships between units and therefore will follow shapes and lines beyond their ending points. Human perception tends to continue the created order or pattern rather than deviate from what has already been established. The law of continuity works with spatial patterns, but also across time as well. For example, as opposed to hearing individual notes, listeners tend to hear a melody.

Figure and Ground

The figure-ground principle holds that human perception separates an object from its surrounding. A unit is either perceived as either a "figure"-- the object of focus -- or the "ground" -- the surrounding background area. Depending on characteristics such as contrasting color or size, the eye perceives these figures as being separate from the background. The "ground" or background space is also often called "negative space."


The law of proximity maintains that humans tends to visually group units or shapes together if they are close to each other. Items far apart from each other are perceived as separate. For example, readers tend to see words -- composed of letter units -- as wholes, because the specific letters are closer to each other in each group. When there is a gap or space, perception is interrupted and the perceiver has a more difficult time ascertaining organization or order.


The law of closure exists when human perception tends to see complete, whole figures, even if there are gaps or missing pieces of information. The human brain has a tendency to close gaps and provide the missing information, especially when the pattern or form is familiar. For this closure to occur, the gaps between the pattern or form must be easily filled. This principle is used in cartoon animation to create motion between still images.

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