Gestalt – design from chaos to order


As a visual designer, I am fascinated how people process visual perceptual information. The design process is about bringing order and form to our visual world. Gestalt Psychologists in the 1930’s suggested some basic perceptual rules that the brain automatically and unconsciously follows as it organises sensory information into meaningful wholes. Gestalt in German means form, figure or shape. The Gestalt psychologists began to question the efforts of classical psychologists and behaviourists to reduce perception to an assortment of sensation. It was clear perception tended to structure itself in unitary entities or ‘wholes’ that some areas of perceptual mosaic move together and can be handled as units.

Figure-ground perception

When we look at the world, we see a multitude of objects or figures that seem to stand away from the background. Such as the words that I am typing in black against the white background. In a website design, I intuitively separate the web elements so that they are distinct from their background. The navigation menu needs to be seen separate from its background.  With the figure below what do you see?


Our brains tend to group objects that are close to one another. When the dots are placed together in groups, we see three separate groups of dots. Objects that are brought closer together tend to interrupt the discontinuous and ‘non-unified’.


The brain tends to group similar objects that are together. We see the triangles and circles separately. On a web design page, we will keep all the buy now button looking the same so that they can be seen quickly.


We perceive smooth continuous patterns rather than discontinuous ones. We have a preference for understanding visual information that seems to follow one another as a continuous pattern. Camouflage works on the principle of good continuation.


People tend to perceive the simplest pattern possible.


Our minds help us fill in the gaps to create a complete, whole object. If part of a familiar pattern or shape is missing, perceptual processes complete the pattern.

Gestalt principles describe the fundamentals of the design process. A web designer is a visual communicator, and a skilled designer is continually organising complexity so that it is understood as part of a whole

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