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Jun 27 / Rolaine Dang

Understanding How We See Things

As mentioned before, our perception isn’t a true representation of what really is there. This greatly applies to the neurophysiology of our eyes and how we see things in general. Chapter two in “Designing with the Mind in Mind” talks about how we like to see things in a holistic manner and how the Gestalt principles may serve as a tool to help describe what we are seeing.

“Gestalt” is a German word meaning “shape” or “figure.” The Gestalt principle came about from a group of German psychologist in the early twentieth century who discovered many visual phenomena, one which being that humans are wired to see shapes, figures and objects as a whole rather than disconnected lines, edges, etc. The other phenomenon describes how we are inclined to put things in some sort of structure. We can break the Gestalt Principles into two categories based on our visual tendencies: Organization of object and resolving ambiguity.



The Gestalt Principle of Proximity is how we group things based on the objects’ relative distance to each other. Objects that appear closer together tend to be viewed as a group.

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The Gestalt Principle of Similarity is when objects are grouped together because they look similar.

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The Gestalt Principe of Common fate occurs when moving objects are perceived to have relation and are grouped together.

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The Gestalt Principle of Continuity is our perception of continuous forms rather than disconnected pieces to view the object as a whole entity.

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The Gestalt Principle of Closure is when we fill in data and visualize closed and/or open figures as one whole object and not individual segments.

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The Gestalt Principle of  Symmetry is when we try to organize, simplify and give symmetry to a complex object so that we can interpret it.

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The Gestalt Principle of figure/ground is our tendency to separate and see the visual field as background and figure. It also states that smaller objects are seen as the figure which takes our focus while the larger object is perceived to be the background.

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Johnson noted that these principles mostly work in conjunction with other principles in the real world rather than being experienced individually. He also recommends practicing identifying which principles are being used after a design process to see any unintended relationships between the elements. With that said, I can’t wait to apply and test these principles against the Next!