The term Gestalt derived from psychology as a method of analysing. This is used within graphic design as the human brain has evolved to process rhythms and patterns as we like familiarity. Kurt Kaffka referred to gestalt as “the whole is other than the sum of parts”, however, it has also been referred to as “everything in it’s right place” which I personally believe to be right.

Emergence: The whole identified before the parts.

Reification: Our mind fills in the gaps, such as watching a horror film and the eery music fills in the silence so your mind is constantly trying to figure out what is going on. This is probably the best path to follow in the graphic design, or advertising world as this allows the audience to come to their own conclusion and, in turn, entices them to take more notice of the advertisement.

Multi-stability: The mind seeks to avoid uncertainty. This is because the mind always looks for familiar surroundings so it has something to settle on, it looks to make sense of everything, as we humans do. This is why new trends and unfamiliar designs look weird at first, because we haven’t seen them before. As they’re new our brains still need tome to process them.

Invariance: We’re good at recognising similarities and differences, again, down to our human nature. This goes as far back as cavemen culture as they looked for evidence if somebody has intruded in their cave.

Laws of gestalt:

  • Figure and Ground: This can refer to page hierarchy. For example, a block of black on a large sheet of white paper. The figure is the black block, or any symbol, word and/or image and the ground is the space around/what is it presented on.


  • Law of simplicity: Again, the mind always looks for the simplest possible route when it comes to problem solving, although, it sometimes doesn’t feel that way, especially when it comes to relationship drama and the 1000 unlikely reasons you ‘ve amounted to as why they have taken 8 minutes to reply to your last text.


  • Law of closure: Again, as complex as the human brain is, the mind doesn’t like to be left open-ended. So, your brain will come to it’s own conclusions if it hasn’t been given an end result. This is because the brain tends to perceive forms and figures in their complete appearance, despite any missing or vague parts.

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  • Law of proximity: This suggests that any two objects that are simply near eachother will be considered a whole. For example, if you did an exhibition and you placed a banana on top of a chair, when people came to view the exhibition they would group the two forms together and try to figure out ‘why is it like that?’ ‘what is the message?’ rather that just looking at it as a banana on top of a chair.


  • Law of similarity: The human brain naturally connects patterns and/or shapes. This means as humans we often group things together because we see them together, even though they could be completely separate.


  • Law of parallelism: Elements that are parallel to each other appear more related than those that are not parallel, this again comes down to how our perception works and the brains automatic assumption.

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  • Law of continuation: The law of continuation come into play when the eye is compelled to move through one object and continue to another object. This can dominate over colour differences if done correctly. This happens as your eyes naturally flow with the lines, coming from our instinct to move forward. In my follow example your eyes will follow the blue line as it’s flowing from the top to the right and this is recognised as a positive posture, you will then follow the teal line as this is flowing from the top to the left and this is recognised as a negative posture. However, you will follow both lines from start to finish, and this is the law of continuation.


  • Law of common fate: Anything moving in the same direction is perceived as being more related than anything stationary or flow in other directions. Anything moving at the same time are often grouped together, as are patterns.


How can this be used and why does it apply in graphic design?

Good question. There are several ways this can be used in graphic design and it’s important to know them. The first is using a focal point. This is using several different laws to draw in one one specific point, what you want your reader to focus on. This can be done in several different ways including the use of white space and understanding the psychology behind the laws. Another way of using gestalt is through past experience. People are suspect to change, it’s human nature. Using this for/against can have some interesting results, especially when its something important. For example, if it was coming up to a government election and the Labour Party wanted to sabotage the Tories (don’t we all) they could use campaigns around Margaret Thatcher and this would prove very popular in the North of England as, let’s just say, she’s not very popular around there. This would draw in more votes for the Labour Party and against the Conservative party. Gestalt is all about psychology and how the human mind works, and then using it to your advantage.


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