Understanding Gestalt Principles of Design

Post by
William Griffiths
Understanding Gestalt Principles of Design

Understanding Gestalt Principles of Design

The world of design is complicated, and that goes without saying. There are so many different factors to consider before, during, and after designing a piece of work, and they all serve the same purpose—steady improvement. Today, we want to dig into something that some may not be too familiar with: the Gestalt principles of design.

Gestalt principles are human perceptions that inform us about how we tend to group similar elements. They theorise that this is how we put together patterns, simplify images, and even look at different objects. So, in design, it makes sense that we’ll always be coming back to a structured philosophy, and most of the time, we don’t even realise we’re doing it.

The principles we’ll discuss in this piece are incredibly useful for designers looking to grow in the field. These shortcuts allow us to better grasp the concepts that bring a design piece together, and it’s hard not to get excited about that.

With that in mind, let’s get to it.

The Most Common Gestalt Principles of Design

There are certainly a handful of Gestalt principles of design that really stand out amongst the crowd. Some may seem obvious, and others may be out there, but if you can start incorporating these into your daily operations, it could do wonders for your career.


Figure-ground is a really interesting perception and, in truth, an exercise that has been exploited, especially on social media. It is our ability to differentiate between an object and its background. We often simplify an image by separating the image at the front from what is behind it, with the main object becoming the source of our focus.


You’ve heard the term “close proximity”, and that’s essentially what we’re discussing concerning this principle. Subconsciously, we like to group together elements on a screen or surface that are closer together. We separate them from the objects that are farther away, allowing users to see them as one distinct grouping instead of many different ones.


When objects or items share many of the same characteristics, we will group them together, as you’ve probably guessed by now. It’s all about taking the noise and confusion out of a situation and working with your own facts instead. Once again, when they’re taken individually and put together, they can become one.


This is all about looking at elements that go on the same journey—and we mean that in a literal sense. They take the same path or are going the same way on the page, with our eyes following their trajectory closely. We like a consistent flow instead of things flying off in a million and one different directions.


Seeing things through to completion is always lovely, especially regarding shapes. Different companies and organisations may use incomplete images in their branding that allow us, the audience, to finish off the picture and figure it out for ourselves. It’s all about being clever with your design and making it feel a bit more interactive.

Simplicity (Pragnanz)

Simplicity, also known as Pragnanz, describes our ability to simplify things that seem a bit complex. It is about bringing regulation and order to an image that may seem complicated but isn’t that deep at all. For example, the majority of websites these days use simple images and shapes to convey their message instead of going over the top.

Uniform connectedness

This, in so many ways, is like the Avengers of principles. It takes elements that are connected to one another using colours, frames, shapes and different imagery, bringing them together to form a united front. It’s not a case of just throwing them in a group for the sake of it - but instead, being able to differentiate from a random assortment of images.


This principle is simple: it’s about having an understanding that parallel objects are more related to one another than elements that aren’t. If you get a group of shapes or lines that are connected or aligned, it will look more appealing to the human eye. On the flip side, if something feels a bit all over the place, it can make for uncomfortable viewing.

Focal points

What is the focal point of the imagery you see in front of you? In other words, what is grabbing your attention the most? If there’s a blue triangle alongside nine orange circles on the screen, then the triangle will stand out to you. It’s about directing your audience’s attention to something that should be seen as the ‘main event’.

Past experience

The past experience principle is all about tapping into the history books and seeing what’s there. It’s about taking a symbolic piece of imagery and remembering a time when we last saw it. For example, an app about football scores may feature a football as the primary image. Why? Because there’s a clear association there. It’s comforting, simple, and effective.

Psychological Underpinnings of Gestalt Principles

One of the most fascinating parts of Gestalt principles relates back to the psychological underpinnings of the entire system. They exploit our natural tendencies of human perception, helping us create more engaging and practical designs. It’s one of those things that really helps you step outside yourself for a moment and think about just how much we’ve come to learn about the human condition.

The entire movement began in the early 1900s in Germany. Max Wertheimer, a psychologist, developed a theory alongside his assistants that perception was more complicated than they had initially anticipated. It’s about taking control of your mind and allowing for more seamless, streamlined work in the long run.

There is so much visual input and information in our lives, and with the constant rise of the digital media age, that’s more true than ever before. In the last few decades, designers, among those in other fields, have worked really hard to align these principles with their work. It’s an ongoing process for many, but boy, oh boy, is it worth it.

Final thoughts

Gestalt principles also tend to be really handy when discussing user experience (aka UX) design. When working with different interfaces, your users need to have a simple understanding of what they’re looking at. Instead of confusing your audience, you want them to identify with what you’re selling.

The important thing to remember is that these principles are versatile across many different mediums. From branding to product design and beyond, there’s a broad applicability here. You can use them to create cohesive, user-friendly designs and also teach yourself a thing or two along the way.

Here at Hatchly, we focus most of our attention on unlimited graphic design services. If you’d like to learn more, feel free to check out our website or get in touch!

William Griffiths
Founder & Creative Director

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