The human brain processes about 4 billion bits of information per second (most of it unconsciously) and transmits information at 200 miles per hour. All this neural activity would consume an enormous amount of energy if we were to be conscious of it all, so in order to save energy—while operating at maximum efficiency—the brain uses inductive reasoning and conditional probability to make sense of the world. In other words, when processing visual information hitting our eyes at 1,000 frames per second, our brain opts to be somewhat “lazy.”

theory and psychology was conceived when scientists studied this phenomenon more deeply, and Gestalt’s guiding principle, that our minds tend to perceive objects as part of a greater whole, was born. Gestalt theory emphasizes that the whole of anything is greater than its parts, i.e., the mind forms a global whole with self-organizing tendencies.

Gestalt psychologists observe that humans naturally perceive objects as organized patterns and objects, a principle known as Prägnanz. Gestalt psychologists argued that these exist because the mind’s innate disposition is to perceive patterns in the stimulus based on certain rules.

Gestalt principles

Can designers take advantage of Gestalt theory, its elements, and principles of ? By observing, researching, and identifying examples of our perceptual abilities, designers can design products according to these unifying qualities. In fact, over the last two decades, the work of Gestalt psychologists has been adopted by designers involved in the development of products for human use.

The implementation of Gestalt principles can greatly improve, not just the aesthetics of a design, but also its functionality and user-friendliness, and are a valuable set of ideas for any designer to learn.

There are six individual principles commonly associated with Gestalt theory: similarity, continuation, closure, proximity, figure/ground, and symmetry and order (also called prägnanz). There are also other additional, newer principles sometimes associated with gestalt, such as common fate.

Infographic on using Gestalt principles in design

Understanding the Basics

What is the Gestalt theory?

In the simplest terms, Gestalt theory is based on the idea that the human brain will attempt to simplify and organize complex images or designs that consist of many elements by subconsciously arranging the parts into an organized system that creates a whole, rather than just a series of disparate elements.

About the author

Miklos Philips, United Kingdom

member since April 26, 2016

Miklos is a principal lead UX designer with more than 16 years of experience. As a full-spectrum user experience designer, he effectively mediates between user needs, business objectives, and technical feasibility resulting in product designs that work for the intended audience and impact the bottom line. [click to continue…]
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