10 Gestalt Principles UX Designers Must Know to Create Effective Designs

Explore Gestalt Principles: How does our brain perceive design? Learn how psychology shapes visual perception and enhances user experience.

Author

Godi Yeshaswi

Date

February 15, 2024

The Gestalt principles, also known as the laws of visual perception, offer insights into how our brains organize individual elements, recognize patterns, and simplify complex images.

These principles originated in the early 1900s through the work of German psychologists Max Wertheimer, Kurt Koffka, and Wolfgang Köhler. They observed how the mind integrates everything the eye sees into a unified whole, encapsulated in the German term 'Gestalt,' meaning 'unified whole.'

Today, these principles play a vital role in user experience (UX) design, aiding in creating user-friendly products. By applying Gestalt principles, designers can enhance product engagement, reduce learning curves, and foster positive user experiences.

In this article, we'll delve into:

  • The psychology underlying Gestalt principles.
  • Gestalt principles examples
  • How do UX/UI designers of various companies incorporate these principles into their work?

What is Gestalt Psychology?

Gestalt psychology is a branch of psychology that explores how we perceive, think, and feel. It focuses on the idea that we see things as complete wholes rather than individual parts. This theory aims to understand how humans organize what we see into meaningful patterns by connecting different elements.

According to Gestalt theory, we naturally process information holistically to better understand the world around us. This perspective helps clarify why it's often easier to remember something when it's presented as a whole image rather than broken into separate pieces.

Gestalt Psychology Examples

Let's explore examples of how gestalt psychology principles apply to the gaming, eCommerce and BFSI industries:

Gaming Industry

  • Character Design in Role-Playing Games (RPGs): In RPGs, character design often utilizes gestalt principles to create memorable and easily recognizable characters. Game developers strategically combine various visual elements such as colors, shapes, and accessories to form cohesive and distinctive character designs. Players can quickly identify these characters amidst complex game environments, enhancing immersion and gameplay experience.
  • Level Design in Puzzle Games: In puzzle games like "Tetris" or "Portal," level design follows Gestalt principles to efficiently engage players' problem-solving skills. Game designers arrange game elements such as obstacles, platforms, and interactive objects to encourage players to perceive and manipulate them as cohesive patterns. This approach helps players intuitively understand the game mechanics and solve puzzles more effectively.

  • HUD (Heads-Up Display) Design in First-Person Shooters (FPS): In FPS games like "Call of Duty" or "Overwatch," gestalt principles influence HUD design to convey essential information to players seamlessly. Game developers design HUD elements such as health bars, ammunition counters, and minimaps with careful attention to visual hierarchy and grouping. By presenting this information cohesively, players can quickly assess their status and make informed decisions during intense gameplay situations.

eCommerce Industry

  • Product Page Layout and Design: In eCommerce websites, product pages are designed with gestalt principles to enhance user engagement and facilitate purchasing decisions. Users can quickly evaluate product offerings and make informed purchase choices by organizing product images, descriptions, reviews, and pricing information in a visually cohesive layout. Clear visual hierarchy, such as prominent call-to-action button design and product highlights, guides users' attention and encourages interaction with the site.
  • Shopping Cart and Checkout Process: Gestalt principles influence the design of shopping cart interfaces and checkout processes to streamline the online purchasing experience. Elements such as product thumbnails, item quantities, and total prices are grouped logically to give users a comprehensive overview of their shopping cart contents. Progress indicators and step-by-step instructions also guide users through the checkout process, reducing friction and increasing conversion rates.
  • Personalized Recommendations and Product Suggestions: eCommerce platforms leverage gestalt principles to deliver personalized product recommendations and suggestions to users based on their browsing and purchase history. eCommerce websites can enhance cross-selling and upselling opportunities by grouping similar products and highlighting relevant items, such as complementary accessories or related products. This personalized approach increases user engagement and encourages repeat purchases, ultimately driving revenue for the eCommerce business.

Also Read - 5 E-commerce UX Best Practices for Guaranteed Conversions

BFSI Industry

  • Website and Mobile App Design for Banking Services: Banks and financial institutions apply Gestalt principles inthe website and mobile app design to improve user experience and facilitate navigation. Users can quickly grasp their financial status and perform banking tasks efficiently by organizing financial information, account details, and transaction histories into visually coherent layouts. Clear visual cues, such as color-coded categories and intuitive menu structures, enhance user engagement and satisfaction.
  • Fraud Detection Systems: In the BFSI sector, gestalt principles inform the design of fraud detection systems to identify suspicious activities and protect against financial fraud. These systems analyze vast amounts of transaction data and detect patterns indicative of fraudulent behavior by grouping related transactions based on similarities and anomalies. By leveraging gestalt principles, fraud detection algorithms can efficiently identify fraudulent patterns and alert financial institutions to take preventive measures.
  • Investment Portfolio Visualization: In wealth management and investment services, gestalt principles guide the visualization of investment portfolios to help clients understand complex financial data effectively. By presenting investment holdings, asset allocations, and performance metrics as cohesive visual representations, clients can quickly assess their investment portfolios' overall health and make informed decisions about asset allocation and risk management. This approach enhances transparency and fosters trust between financial advisors and clients.

Also Read - The Importance of User Journey Mapping in the BFSI Sector 

What are the Gestalt Grouping Principles?

The Gestalt principles of perception are fundamental laws in psychology that explain how the human brain organizes and groups visual elements. The inception of Gestalt psychology can be traced back to Max Wertheimer's 1912 study, 'Experimental Studies of the Perception of Movement,' which laid the groundwork for this field alongside Kurt Koffka and Wolfgang Köhler.

Over time, additional Gestalt principles have been identified and studied, expanding the original set of seven. Today, we recognize ten prominent and widely-used Gestalt principles:

  • Parallelism principle
  • Continuity principle
  • Similarity principle
  • Proximity principle
  • Closure principle
  • Symmetry and Order (Prägnanz) principle
  • Common region and common fate principle
  • Figure-ground principle
  • Focal point principle
  • Simplicity Principle

Each of these principles describes how the human mind processes and makes sense of complex visual information by organizing it into coherent patterns. While these principles originated from the work of early Gestalt psychologists, they continue to be invaluable tools for contemporary UX designers.

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10 Gestalt Principles with Examples

Let’s examine each principle closely, accompanied by visual examples to illustrate their practical application. It's worth noting that some of these principles may share common aspects or intersect in their implementation.

1. Parallelism Principle 

Parallelism is a design principle that recommends organizing elements in parallel lines to give the impression of a unified whole. This fosters a feeling of harmony and uniformity, enhancing the visual appeal and clarity of the design.

For instance, in web design, aligning text, images, and other components in parallel lines establishes a clear structure and consistency, facilitating easier comprehension for the viewer. Additionally, it guides the viewer's attention toward particular focal points within the design, such as important buttons or messages.

Parallelism Principle Example

Source: Apple Store

An instance of parallelism in action is maintaining uniform margins and padding in web design, referring to the white space surrounding and separating elements on a webpage.

For instance, in the Apple web store, products are consistently photographed and presented with equal margins and padding. This practice establishes parallelism and alignment, creating a unified and aesthetically pleasing layout.

2. Continuity Principle

The Gestalt principle of continuity indicates that our minds perceive a sequence of interconnected elements as a unified and uninterrupted whole.

This principle establishes a visual pathway in design that directs the viewer's attention across a composition. By strategically using lines, shapes, and colors, designers can link diverse elements to foster a sense of fluidity.

For instance, consider a website featuring multiple articles, each with distinct headings and images. Leveraging the continuity principle, designers can unite these disparate elements visually, guiding the viewer seamlessly from one article to the next, thus ensuring a cohesive and uninterrupted user experience.

Continuity Principle Example

Source: Pinterest

For example, let's consider Pinterest's home feed interface. Although the images displayed vary in size, they are organized into columns, resulting in continuous vertical lines of space between them. This application of the continuity principle prompts users to scroll up and down the app, as the vertical column arrangement naturally encourages vertical navigation.

3. Similarity Principle

The Gestalt principle of similarity explains that when objects share visual characteristics like shape, size, color, or texture, our minds perceive them as part of the same group or pattern. Consequently, we tend to group similar objects and distinguish them from those with different visual attributes.

For instance, imagine a website featuring various buttons of different shapes and colors. Without applying the principle of similarity, the layout may appear disorderly and perplexing.

However, by grouping similar buttons—ensuring that round buttons share the same color, for instance—a clear visual hierarchy is established. This facilitates user comprehension and navigation while directing attention to specific areas of the design and aiding in understanding the relationships between different elements.

Similarity Principle Example

Source: Zoom

This principle is commonly observed in website navigation menus. For instance, on Zoom's homepage, links leading to app-related actions (like "join," "host," and "sign in") are presented in the black strip. At the same time, those associated with the customer journey (such as product page pricing and resources) appear in the white strip. Though often unnoticed, this distinction in color communicates to users the differing functions of these links.

4. Proximity Principle

The Gestalt principle of proximity entails grouping related elements together. Designers utilize this principle to achieve a more organized and structured layout by positioning similar elements in close proximity. This approach facilitates storytelling and directs attention to key components within the design.

Analogously, imagine assembling puzzle pieces in one area to enhance the visibility of the overall picture and facilitate fitting the pieces together. This exemplifies the essence of the Gestalt proximity principle. 

Proximity Principle Example

Source: Amazon

The Amazon website arranges related products close to each other while keeping unrelated items separate. Amazon enables users to locate desired items swiftly, enhancing the browsing experience with a visually pleasing and user-friendly layout. Leveraging the Gestalt principle of proximity, the Amazon website ensures users a clear and organized interface.

5. Closure Principle

The Gestalt principle of closure, also known as reification, describes how the brain fills in gaps or completes an image, even when missing parts.

For instance, consider a stylized illustration of a tree with only its trunk, branches, and a few leaves. Despite lacking detail, the viewer can still recognize it as a complete tree.

Designers often leverage this principle to craft simple yet memorable designs. Designs become more efficient and impactful by trusting the viewer's brain to fill in missing details. Closure also adds an element of intrigue, prompting deeper engagement with the visual.

Closure Principle Example

Source: Evernote

The Evernote logo demonstrates how closure operates in logo design. An elephant shape formed within the space can be observed upon closer inspection. While the elephant shape isn't fully outlined, our brains complete the image, allowing us to perceive a complete elephant. 

6. Symmetry and Order (Prägnanz) Principle

The Gestalt principle of symmetry and order emphasizes the importance of balance and structure in design, leading to visually captivating and engaging experiences for the audience.

For instance, when designing a website or logo, incorporating balanced and repeated patterns, centered text, mirrored imagery, or utilizing a grid layout can achieve symmetry that enhances the overall appeal of the design.

Furthermore, integrating elements that signify order, such as clean lines, consistent patterns, and orderly arrangements, contributes to a visually organized and easily comprehensible presentation.

Symmetry and Order (Prägnanz) Principle Example

Source: Adidas

A noteworthy illustration of grid application in website design is evident on the Adidas website. Their utilization of a grid layout allows for easy scanning, with their product offerings arranged in orderly rows and columns, presenting a symmetrical and well-organized interface.

7. Common Region and Common Fate Principle

The Gestalt principle of common region and common fate explains how our brains interpret the relationship between objects. Objects that are nearby (sharing a common region) or moving in the same direction or at the same speed (common fate) are perceived as a group.

In design, this principle is employed to establish unity and organization in a composition. For instance, grouping similar objects within a shared region, such as icons or images, establishes a clear visual hierarchy. Alternatively, aligning text or objects in a consistent direction creates a sense of movement and directs the viewer's gaze.

By integrating the common region/common fate principle into your designs, you can create visually appealing and easily comprehensible compositions.

Common Region or Common Fate Principle Example

Source: Nike

This principle is frequently observed on product pages. For instance, in the product display on the Nike website, all the sneakers face the same direction, creating a sense of unity. Conversely, the images portraying slides/slippers are portrayed in a way that slides are on top of each other.  

8. Figure Ground Principle

The Gestalt principle of figure/ground, also referred to as multi-stability, explains how our brains perceive objects and their surroundings in the environment.

In Universal Principles of Design, figure/ground is defined as the way our brains interpret elements as either focal points (the figure) or the background (the ground). Similar to closure, this principle operates through the use of positive and negative space.

Furthermore, this principle induces a multi-stability visual phenomenon, where our brains alternate between perceiving different elements as the figure or the ground.

Leveraging the figure/ground principle in design enables the creation of visually captivating designs and emphasizes specific content. By manipulating contrasting colors, shapes, sizes, and textures, designers can control which elements are perceived as the figure and the ground. This approach directs the viewer's attention to vital aspects of the design and fosters a sense of visual focus.

Figure Ground Principle Example

Source: Pinterest

Within the logo of the Hope for African Children Initiative, if one observes closely, the space between the African flag elements reveals a representation of a mother and a child.

9. Focal Point Principle

The focal point principle aims to direct the viewer's focus towards the most significant aspect of your design. This is accomplished by highlighting a single element or object as the central point of attention.

To establish a compelling focal point, various techniques can be employed to ensure the chosen element stands out amidst its surroundings. These methods include utilizing contrasting colors, increasing the size or prominence of the element, or positioning it prominently, such as at the center of the page. The objective is to guide the viewer's gaze toward the key information or element within the design, such as a headline, image, or call-to-action button.

Focal Point Principle Example

Source: EA Sports

The majority of designs incorporate focal points to effectively guide the audience's attention toward a crucial element or prompt them to take a specific action. For instance, call-to-action buttons often feature contrasting colors, as demonstrated in the screenshot of the EA Sports FC homepage. The vibrant CTA color naturally attracts our eyes amidst the darker tones on the page, prompting viewers to focus on and engage with the button.

10. Simplicity Principle

The Gestalt principle of simplicity in design emphasizes the importance of using only essential elements to convey a message or accomplish a goal effectively. This is because our brains naturally prefer simplicity and order, and unnecessary elements can hinder the design's impact.

To implement this principle, adopt clean and uncluttered layouts, restrict the use of colors and elements, and eliminate distractions from the overall design. This strategy ensures that the design remains focused and communicates its intended message clearly and efficiently.

Simplicity Principle Example

Source: Olympics

Source: Slack

One of the most renowned examples illustrating this concept in design is the Olympic logo. It is often perceived as five intersecting circles, as the complete shape is more challenging to comprehend and articulate. Similarly, consider Slack's previous logo. Instead of perceiving a combination of various colored squares and semicircles, many observers perceive the complete image as a multi-colored hashtag.

Bottom line

In conclusion, Gestalt principles are fundamental in various design fields, shaping how we perceive and organize visual information. They offer valuable insights into creating user-friendly products and enhancing engagement across industries such as gaming, eCommerce, and BFSI.

By applying these principles, designers can create cohesive and effective designs, from character design in games to website layouts in banking services. Practical examples demonstrate their real-world application, highlighting their role in creating visually appealing and user-friendly experiences.

In essence, Gestalt principles serve as a guiding framework for designers to capture attention, convey information clearly, and drive business success in the digital realm.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the 5 principles of Gestalt?

Gestalt principles refer to the various methods people employ to organize stimuli into coherent wholes that are meaningful to them. These principles can be categorized into five groups: proximity, similarity, continuity, connectedness, and closure.

What is an example of a Gestalt theory?

An example of Gestalt psychology in everyday life is in the way people complete jigsaw puzzles. Rather than looking at each piece as an individual unit, they form meaningful relationships between the pieces to see the big picture more quickly and efficiently.

What is the Gestalt principle approach?

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Gestalt theory underscores the idea that the entirety of something surpasses the sum of its individual components. In other words, you cannot fully understand the characteristics of the whole by examining its parts separately. The term "Gestalt" signifies the arrangement or composition of a thing.

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With lots of unique blocks, you can easily build a page without coding.

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With lots of unique blocks, you can easily build a page without coding.

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With lots of unique blocks, you can easily build a page without coding.

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With lots of unique blocks, you can easily build a page without coding.

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With lots of unique blocks, you can easily build a page without coding.

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Click on Study templates

With lots of unique blocks, you can easily build a page without coding.

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With lots of unique blocks, you can easily build a page without coding.

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With lots of unique blocks, you can easily build a page without coding.

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Author Bio

Yeshaswi is a dedicated and enthusiastic individual with a strong affinity for tech and all things content. When he's not at work, he channels his passion into his love for football, especially for F.C. Barcelona and the GOAT, Lionel Messi. Instead of hitting the town for parties, he prefers to spend quality time cuddling with his Golden Retriever, Oreo.

Godi Yeshaswi

Product Marketing Specialist

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