Arrows Along the Way

Design principles for going beneath the surface

Greg Breeding
Jun 18, 2019 · 5 min read
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The Gestalt Principles of Perception

1. Proximity

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In figure A, the simple arrangement of circles suggests the design of a cohesive square. But when the columns of circles are pulled apart, as in figure B, viewers tend to perceive two dissociated, rectangular groupings of circles, even though all other visual information (such as color and shape) is intact.

2. Similarity

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By the principle of proximity, the circles and squares in figures C and D collectively suggest larger squares. But their differences in both shape and color invite viewers to organize them into columns and rows, respectively, and to perceive them as distinct but analogous visual formations.

3. Continuity

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The principle of continuity is accentuated, as in figures E and F, when shapes are arranged along a linear or curving path. Viewers not only perceive the shapes along a path as groupings but are also inclined to perceive a sense of motion.

4. Closure

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Figure G is comprised of four shapes resembling brackets that, arranged in this way, suggest the presence of two rectangles — one in the interior negative space and another on the periphery of the design. Similarly, figure H presents the illusion of multiple triangles. Each grouping of three circles is perceived as a triangle, though no angles exist. The three groupings of circles also suggest a larger triangle held in tension by their spatial relationship to each other.

5. Figure / Ground

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In figure J, this stable design suggests that the white square is in the foreground while the red square defines the background. Conversely, figure K demonstrates a reversible relationship where the white and the red shapes can be alternately perceived as either foreground or background. But sometimes, as in the ambiguous figure L, the figure/ground relationship can be arbitrary, creating an invitation to the viewer to engage more dynamically.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

Journey Group

Pondering the practical questions of design for institutions.

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