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  • Writer's pictureLinda Pizzitola, Kauai, Hawaii

Gestalt Principles - Part 2

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

Gestalt principles of perception

In a recent post, we looked at two gestalt principles of visual perception: figure/ground and closure. Here we touch on three more principles that attempt to explain how the context of abstract images influences our visual interpretations of them.


When objects look similar to one another, people tend to perceive them as belonging together. We mentally group them or seek patterns among them. Shared characteristics could include shape, size, color, or orientation.

Gestalt principle of similarity
Gestalt principle of similarity

Above left: the eye groups the circles into rows due to their similarity of color, although all are equally spaced, and could just as easily be columns.

Above right: ten separate elements appear as a unified whole due to the similarity of their shapes.

When similarity prevails, an object that is different will typically stand out as the focal point. This is called anomaly and can be used to advantage in graphic design. The element that deviates from a set pattern grabs our attention and ‘makes us look.’

Gestalt principle of anomaly


Objects which are close together will be seen as being grouped or associated with one another, according to the principle of proximity or contiguity. The closer the elements appear, the more likely we are to perceptually group them.

How does this principle play out in graphic design?

In page layout, a few clusters of related elements trump content scattered to the four corners of the page every time. Artful grouping of objects (text and/or graphics) creates a bond between the elements, a relationship, a cohesive whole. When pieces are joined together in a logical grouping, we perceive them as one visual unit that we can mentally batch process. We see a family of related objects. No sorting required.

This might mean packaging:

• multiple bits of contact information in a cluster

• a heading with the paragraph below it

• an event’s date, time, location and RSVP information

• a photo or illustration with caption and credit

• a pull quote with author’s name and affiliation

• a logo with a tagline or web address


The eye’s tendency is to follow a path, real or imagined, and to move through one object and continue to another. Points of light we see in the night sky have long been interpreted as familiar objects and characters. These perceptions illustrate the human tendency to connect the dots (as well as the lines and curves) and to seek meaning in the abstract.

In graphic design, it makes sense to place your message along, or at the end of a path, since the viewer’s eye is inclined to follow it. Design can help make information user-friendly by laying out a path for the reader.

Above: Continuation leads us to perceive a dipper in the stars (left) and two crossed lines instead of four lines meeting in the middle (right).

Below: The maple leaf is seen as a continuaton of the “H.”

Gestalt principle of continuation

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