UX Analytics Guide

Gestalt Principles

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Gestalt Principles

What are Gestalt principles?

The Gestalt Principles are a group of laws arising from 1920s' psychology, describing how humans typically see objects by grouping similar elements, recognizing patterns and simplifying complex images. Designers use these to interact with users via powerful -yet natural- "tricks" of perspective and best practice design standards. In the simplest terms, gestalt principles are 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 make an entire, instead of just a series of disparate elements. Our brains are built to assess structure and patterns so as to better understand the environment that we're living in.


"The whole is other than the sum of the parts." - Kurt Koffka

The Gestalt Principles of grouping ("Gestalt" is German for "unified whole") represent the culmination of the work of early 20th-century German psychologists Max Wertheimer, Kurt Koffka and Wolfgang Kohler, who sought to understand how humans typically gain meaningful perceptions from chaotic stimuli around them.

The mind "informs" what the eye sees by making sense of a series of elements as a picture, or illusion. Early graphic designers soon began applying the Gestalt Principles in advertising, encapsulating company values within iconic logos. In the century since, designers have deployed Gestalt Principles extensively, crafting designs with well-placed elements that catch the attention as larger, whole images so viewers instantly make positive connections with the organizations represented.

Why is Gestalt Theory important?

Gestalt principles can quickly elevate a design that seems haphazard or like it's fighting for a user's attention to one that offers a seamless, natural interaction that makes your site feel familiar while guiding users toward the action you would like them to require.

Laws of Gestalt principles

The laws of Gestalt principles will surely help you in UX UI design, using these laws in your design can improve speed, functionality, and clarity of the system

  1. Similarity 

  2. Continuity

  3. Closure

  4. Proximity

  5. Figure/ground

  6. Symmetry and order

There are also some additional new laws associated with Gestalt principles - common fate, common region.

Law of Similarity

It's human nature to group like things together. In gestalt, similar elements are visually grouped, no matter of their proximity to every other. They can be grouped by color, shape, or size. Of course, you can make things dissimilar if you want to make them stand out from the crowd. It's why buttons for calls to action are often designed in a distinguished color than the rest of a page---so they stand out and draw the visitor's attention to the desired action.

Law of Continuity

The law of continuity states that the human eye will follow the smoothest path when viewing lines, regardless of how the lines were actually drawn. This continuation is often a valuable tool when the goal is to guide a visitor's eye towards a certain direction. They will follow the easiest path on the page, so make sure the most important parts they have to see fall within that path. Since the eye naturally follows a line, placing items in a series will naturally draw the eye from one item to another. Horizontal sliders are one such example, as are related product listings on sites like Amazon.

Law of Closure

It's the concept that your brain will fill within the missing parts of a design or image to make it whole. In easier terms, the principle of closure allows your eye to follow something like a dotted line to its end.

Closure is quite often seen in logos, like that for the World Wildlife Fund. Large chunks of the outline for the panda are missing, but your brain has no problem filling in the missing sections to see the whole animal.

Another vital example of closure at work in UX and UI design is once you show a partial image fading off the user's screen in order to point them out that there is more to be found if they swipe left or right. Without a partial image, i.e., if only full images are shown, the brain doesn't immediately interpret that there might be more to be seen, and therefore your user is less likely to scroll.

Law of proximity

Proximity refers to how close elements are to each other. The strongest proximity relationships are those between overlapping subjects, but also just grouping objects into a single area can have a great proximity effect.

The opposite is also true, of course. By putting space between elements, you can add separation even when their other characteristics are exactly the same.

In UX design, proximity is most frequently used in order to urge users to group certain things together without the utilization of things like hard borders. By putting things closer together, with space in between each group, the viewer will immediately pick up on the organization and structure you want them to perceive.

Law of Figure/Ground

This is similar to the closure principle in that it takes advantage of the way the brain processes negative space. You've probably seen some examples of this principle floating around in memes on social media, or as a part of logos.

The figure/ground principle can be very handy when designers want to highlight a focal point, particularly when it is active or in use---for example, when a modal window pops up and the remaining fades into the background, or when a search tab is clicked on and the contrast increases between it and the rest of the site.

Law of symmetry/order

The law of symmetry and order is also known as pragnanz, the German word for "good figure." What this principle says is that your brain will perceive ambiguous shapes in as simple a manner as possible.

Law of common fate

This principle states that the people will group together things that show to or are going in the same direction. In nature, we see this in things like flocks of birds or schools of fish. They are made from a bunch of individual elements, but because they move seemingly together, our brains group them together and consider them a single stimulus. This can be very useful in UX as animated effects become more prevalent in modern design. Note that elements don't really have to be on the move in order to gain something from this principle, but they do have to give the impression of motion.

Gestalt principles and UX design

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

Learning to include the visual perception principles of gestalt into your design work can greatly improve the user experience. Understanding how the human brain works and then exploiting an individual's natural tendencies create a more seamless interaction that makes a user feel comfortable on a website, even if it's their first visit.

More notably in interfaces, users must easily understand what they see---and find what they want---at the first sight. An honest example can be the principles of proximity and common region, as seen in many landing pages where colors and graphics divide the page into separate regions. For designers, the true trick of Gestalt isn’t to confuse or delay users, but to guide them to identify their options and identify with organizations/brands rapidly.

There is no “single size fits all set of UX analytics”. Every product is built for a special purpose and with different people in mind. The best way to go about pleasing your users is to concentrate on how they interact, measure the key events specific to your product, and critically determine the areas where you will improve. As always, remember to balance the quantitative metrics against qualitative user feedback.

Designers must appreciate how the mind strives for ordered pictures and also how easily ill-ordered elements can frustrate users. Designers must remember that while the Gestalt Principles are universal to the human experience, fine-tuning their application demands attention to color use and other cultural considerations.

Final Thoughts

There is no one size fits all set of UX analytics.Every product is built for a different purpose and with different people in mind. The best way to go about pleasing your users is to pay attention to how they interact, measure the key events specific to your product, and critically determine the areas where you can improve.As always, remember to balance the quantitative metrics against qualitative user feedback.