Gestalt Principles User Experience (UX) topic overview/definition

Gestalt Principles: Concept Definition

Gestalt principles describe how the human eye perceives visual elements—in particular, they tell us that complex images tend to be reduced to simpler shapes. Gestalt psychologist Kurt Koffka summarized them thus: “The whole is other than the sum of parts.” This means the whole of an image is perceived as a separate entity from its individual parts.

Gestalt principles are used in creating many optical illusions. A notable example is the image that depicts both an elderly woman in profile and a young lady who is looking away from the viewer. Because we perceive the whole of an image differently from how we do its constituent parts, we can create images that trick our eyes into perceiving interesting “wholes” out of seemingly meaningless “individual” elements. In other words, visual artists can perform illusions—as the human mind is hardwired to make sense of such chaotic scenes, drawing conclusions from these kinds of images by filling in any gaps between the elements they comprise or “flipping” perspectives so as to end up with multiple interpretations.

In UX design and interaction design, Gestalt principles play a large role in making interfaces usable and easy to understand. Designers can use the Gestalt principle of proximity—where elements that are arranged together can form a more complex image—to group conceptually similar elements together in a website. An example would be grouping an image, a title, and an excerpt together in an “article card” design. Conversely, a wrong use of proximity, where elements of an interface are grouped together even when they have nothing to do with one another, might result in confusion instead. Spanning a wide range of key, universally identifiable concepts—from figure-ground, to closure, to continuation and more—Gestalt principles also lie at the heart of traditional or print design.

For your convenience, we’ve collected all UX literature that deals with Gestalt Principles. Here’s the full list: