The Rules of The Gestalt Theory And How To Apply It to Your Graphic Design Layouts

The Rules of Gestalt - The Rules of The Gestalt Theory And How To Apply It to Your Graphic Design Layouts

By: Lois Knight

Gestalt Theory and the Psychology of Design

The rules of Gestalt make up the basis of good design, and have since the late 1890’s. But exactly what is it? There is some question as to the number of rules there are, but there is not doubt as to the principles behind it. It is the basis that in design the whole exceeds the sum of the individual parts. For designers, this is a visual rule. When we look at something, we know there are individual photos and text that make up a layout. The Gestalt Theory comes into play, when it looks better together than apart. Does the piece have greater meaning as a whole than as the individual parts? What is the message or story it is telling the world?

In order to understand the rules of Gestalt, it is a good idea to know what the rules are. There are several and they are not difficult to understand if you spend a few minutes just looking at them. In any given project or piece, several of these principles may come into play, and typically tend to compliment each other. As your expertise in graphics continues to grow, you will notice this more. For now, let’s take a look at what these rules are.

  1. The Rule of Proximity. This rule applies to how elements of a piece are grouped based on their proximity or closeness. These individual pieces may be different or the same.

Gestalt Theory - ABC Images

  1. The Rule of Similarity. This rule applies to items that are similar in some respect. Though it is not always the case, these items do tend to be grouped together as well. The above example holds true for this rule. The similarity is in the fact, I used all letters. These groupings are also based on the use of the same colors in all three groups. They are also similar in the fact that there are three groups of three items of the same three colors. I could also have used three pictures of domestic animals such as cats, dogs, and guinea pigs. If you find the similarity, you have found a use for this rule.

Gestalt Theory - Balls and Square

  1. The Rule of Closure. Items grouped together to complete an entity. This one is a little more complex, but not difficult. It is used a lot with logos. Many companies will use two or three letters combined to create a memorable design. It is sometimes coupled with the Rule of Figure/Ground for effect.

Gestalt Theory - Letter Logos

  1. The Rule of Simplicity. This is the use of organizing things into simple designs by way of their symmetry, regularity, and texture. This has been adapted to also be known as the KISS method. For the politically correct, it is called Keep It Simple Student! The more simple and straightforward your message is, the quicker the message will get across. A typical application is “the golden arches”. Almost every nation in the world is familiar with the McDonald’s logo. The same holds true of Xerox and Nike, as well as Apple. Sir Isaac Newton would have been proud! Look what one little apple in a box can do. Keep it Simple!

Gestalt Theory - Company Logos

  1. The Rule of Repetition. Remember when we were kids (For some of us, that’s hard), and you got in trouble with the teacher and she made you write sentences? And you had to write the same sentence over and over “˜til your hand wanted to fall off? It’s the same thing, only less pain, and more fun.

Gestalt Theory - Daycare Blocks

  1. The Rule of Figure/Ground. This rule lets the mind fill in the blanks more or less. Have you ever looked at the bottom of the page where the letters got cut off but you still knew what it was telling you? It can also be the concept of looking at a picture that has two optical illusions. The picture of the young/old woman is a really good example of this. Some people will see the young woman with her plumed hat, while others will see the old crone. All of us can see both after someone points them out.

Gestalt Theory - Visual Images

Can you read this? Only 55 out of 100 can. I couldn’t believe that I could actually understand what I was reading. The phenomenal power of the human mind, according to a researcher at Cambridge University, it doesn’t matter in what order the letters in a word are, the only important thing is that the first and last letter be in the right place. The rest can be a total mess and you can still read it without a problem. This is because the human mind does not read every letter by itself, but the word as a whole. Amazing huh? Yeah and I always thought spelling was important!

So how do we apply these principles to graphic design and layout? Look around, these principles are everywhere! You probably have never noticed them because no one ever pointed them out to you before. (It’s that Rule of Figure/Ground). It is evident in the way we place our furniture, how we dress (Rule of Similarity), do we see our cup as half full or half empty (It’s that Rule of Figure/Ground again), you get the idea. The point is, whether you know it or not, you’ve been using these rules and principles all of your life! Let’s simply apply them to graphics.

Make sure to Visit Our List of Other Articles About the Principles of the Gestalt Theory.Â


Example Use of Gestalt Theory in Graphic Design Layouts

Example Use of Gestalt Theory in Graphic Design Layouts

Example Use of Gestalt Theory in Graphic Design Layouts

Example Use of Gestalt Theory in Graphic Design Layouts

Example Use of Gestalt Theory in Graphic Design Layouts

Example Use of Gestalt Theory in Graphic Design Layouts

Example Use of Principles of Gestalt Theory in Graphic Design Layouts

Example Use of Principles of Gestalt Theory in Graphic Design Layouts

Principles of Gestalt - Real World Examples - Law of Proximity

Principles of Gestalt - Real World Examples - Law of Closure

Principles of Gestalt - Real World Examples - Figure Ground

Principles of Gestalt - Real World Examples - Figure Ground

Principles of Gestalt - Real World Example - Pin Wheel

Principles of Gestalt - Real World Example

Principles of Gestalt - Real World Example - soldiers

Principles of Gestalt - Real World Example - Album Cover Beatles

Principles of Gestalt - Real World Example - escher

Post your examples too or email them to me at submit (at) allgraphicdesign (dot) com with the subject Gestalt Example in the subject.

[tags]gestalt theory, rules of gestalt, rules of gestalt theory, graphic design, design, web design, graphics, how to use gestalt theory, examples of gestalt theory, desktop publishing, graphic design 101, basic graphic design, design theories, learn about design, graphic design tutorial[/tags]

By Lois Knight - You can also see Lois Knight’s Articles on Freelance Folder

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  1. Annie
    Posted March 4, 2008 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    Interesting and informative article!!!

  2. Posted March 6, 2008 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    That’s cool! I can read that jumbled-up paragraph as easily as normal text! Amazing how the mind works. Very informative post!

  3. Posted March 30, 2008 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    Thats a very nice post my friend. interestingly “gestalt” is used by artists and designers that have no idea of it.
    As if balance, form and perspectives come naturally.
    Thanks for that. The Baldchemist.
    Remember, get as much joy as you can everyday.

  4. maria antoinette
    Posted May 6, 2009 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    I guess I am one of the 45 people who cannot read the jumbled up paragraph

  5. Jennifer
    Posted September 18, 2009 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    I could read the jumbled paragraph fairly easy! I guess it is from having to check spelling continuously for projects and papers. I never really noticed how many different visual elements are used to catch our attentions and promote us to purchase different things. I thought this was really cool!!!!

2 Trackbacks

  1. By The Rules of Gestalt | Most Inspired Blog on March 7, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    [...] article on the rules of Gestalt, principles that define the basis of good design. Historically the exact number of rules are [...]

  2. By Psychology and Graphic Design | ArtisanArt on March 17, 2011 at 10:38 am

    [...] Gestalt Theory. Gestalt Theory posits that the whole is often more than the sum of its parts, since the human brain tends to seek completeness and will fills in gaps to achieve this. Graphic designers can use concepts such as continuity (the human brain tends to see patterns or lines with gaps as a whole rather than discontinuous) and closure (the brain tends to complete incomplete stimuli) to their advantage. For more information, read this post on Gestalt Theory. [...]

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