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How to Use Gestalt Principles for Better UX

 By Userlytics
 Apr 22, 2024
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Home  »  Blog   »   How to Use Gestalt Principles for Better UX

What Are The Gestalt Principles?

The Gestalt Principles, a theory developed in the early 20th century by German psychologists, focuses on our ability to perceive overall patterns and designs.

Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Köhler, and Kurt Koffka, the founding figures, proposed that “the whole is other than the sum of its parts.” This fundamental concept has profoundly influenced various fields, including visual perception and design. The Gestalt Principles, derived from these theories, help designers create cohesive designs that effectively communicate with users.

In the context of UX design and UX research, understanding and applying these principles can significantly enhance the user interface and overall user experience. They guide the organization of design elements in a way that is naturally pleasing to the eye. 

Today, as digital platforms become more complex and user expectations evolve, the relevance of these timeless principles only grows stronger.

This article will teach you what the Gestalt Principles are, as well as explore their application in modern UX design and UX research. UX Designers and user researchers can harness these concepts to create more engaging and effective user experiences.

Gestalt Principle 1: Similarity

Similarity suggests that objects sharing visual characteristics such as shape, size, color, texture, or value are perceived as related or grouped together. This principle is crucial in UX design for organizing information in a way that easily communicates relationships between different elements.

For instance, a designer might use a consistent color scheme for all call-to-action buttons on a website to indicate their function is related, helping users navigate the site more intuitively. Similarity can also be used in form design, where related fields are styled similarly to guide the user through the input process efficiently.

By leveraging similarity, UX designers can create a cleaner, more organized interface that enhances user interaction, making the environment more user-friendly and less overwhelming.

Gestalt Principle of Similarity

This webpage wireframe indicates that each content box (squares) holds equal significance, and each will feature different forms of the same type of content, such as images, text, videos, etc.

Gestalt Principle of Similarity v2

In this example, the larger content boxes at the top suggest that the information within them is more important compared to the others. This exemplifies the principle of Similarity at work: the human mind tends to link elements that possess similar visual characteristics.

Gestalt Principle 2: Continuation

Continuation is the principle that the eye will follow the smoothest path. This principle can be particularly effective in guiding the user’s eye through a set of information or controls.

In UX design, continuation can be utilized to lead a viewer’s eye across multiple elements, ensuring they view items in a sequence that corresponds with the site’s navigation logic. For example, a flow from a homepage slider to featured products and then to customer testimonials can be facilitated with strategic placement and alignment of these elements.

Principle of Continuation

In this example, the eye will instinctively trace the most direct and seamless path, even though it changes color partway through.

Continuation ensures that despite the complexity of a layout, the user’s journey through content remains logical and uninterrupted, which is essential for creating a satisfying user experience.

Gestalt Principle 3: Closure

Closure occurs when an object is incomplete or a space is not completely enclosed. If enough of the shape is indicated, people perceive the whole by filling in the missing information. In UX design, closure can be used to create interactive experiences that engage the user’s imagination and participation.

For example, an icon that represents a user might only outline a generic human shape, yet users will recognize it as a user profile link. Similarly, designers can use minimalist navigation menus that rely on familiar symbols rather than fully detailed icons.

A classic example of the Closure principle is seen in the WWF logo. While it clearly suggests the image of a panda, a closer look reveals only the animal’s outline. The mind automatically completes the missing details to form a complete image of a panda.

Principle of Closure

Using closure helps reduce the clutter on web pages or apps, directing user focus towards essential content while preserving a minimalist aesthetic.

Gestalt Principle 4: Proximity

Proximity states that objects that are close to each other are perceived as a group. This is incredibly useful in UX design, where related information or controls need to be grouped together to communicate their relationship without explicit instructions.

In dashboard design, for example, related information like recent activities and upcoming events might be placed in close proximity to suggest their connection and relevance to the user’s tasks. Proximity can also influence how advertisements are integrated on a page, ensuring they are seen as separate from primary content.

Gestalt Principle of Proximity

In this webpage wireframe, client testimonials could be colored in blue and aligned on the same line to emphasize their connection.

Effective use of proximity can significantly enhance the clarity and usability of a site or app, making it easier for users to navigate and find what they need quickly and efficiently.

Gestalt Principle 5: Figure/Ground

Figure/Ground describes the tendency to perceive objects as either being in the foreground or the background. This principle is key in helping users distinguish between actionable items and decorative elements.

In UX design, this might be applied in a form where input fields (figure) are clearly distinguished from the rest of the page (ground). This helps users understand where to interact and what elements are navigational as opposed to purely informational or decorative.

Principle of Figure/Ground

In this example, adding a drop shadow to the blue content boxes suggests that these design elements are clickable or contain additional information, rather than just being decorative.

Effective application of figure/ground in UX design not only improves aesthetics but also functionality, ensuring users can quickly discern where to focus their attention.

Gestalt Principle 6: Symmetry and Order

Symmetry and Order are pleasing to the eye and suggest harmony and balance, which are crucial for creating a positive user experience. In UX design, symmetry can be used to create a sense of stability and order. 

For example, a symmetrical layout in an application form can help convey a sense of reliability and professionalism. When input fields are aligned perfectly, with labels uniformly placed, it creates a pleasing aesthetic that encourages user interaction and reduces visual fatigue.

Principle of Symmetry and Order v1

Consider these two forms. In the first, the text fields are neatly aligned and evenly spaced. 

Principle of Symmetry and Order v2

In the second, they are randomly placed across the page. Which form do you believe users will prefer and be more likely to engage with?

This principle is especially important in complex interfaces, where a lack of symmetry and order can make the environment feel chaotic and hard to use.

Gestalt Principle 7: Common Fate

Common Fate suggests that elements moving in the same direction are perceived as part of a single group. In UX design, this can be applied to elements like animated progress bars or sliders that visually indicate a process or journey.

For instance, elements that animate together on scroll can guide the user’s attention toward a call to action or important piece of information. This principle is also useful in interactive graphs and charts where data points move together to signify trends and insights.

Let’s examine how some brands apply the Gestalt principle of Common Fate to enhance the intuitiveness of their user experiences. 

For instance, Google Drive uses the principle of Common Fate in managing folders. When you select multiple folders within a Google Drive repository and drag & drop them, they group together into a single stack, clearly indicating they are unified.

Google Drive example of Gestalt Principle of Common Fate
Common Fate v2

Another example is the Apple website. As you scroll down, all elements on the page—text, backgrounds, images, videos, and animations—move together as a single cohesive unit. This unified movement underscores their connection, making navigation easier and clarifying the relationship between each piece of content on the page.

Common Fate v3

source : www.apple.com 

Leveraging common fate can enhance the dynamism of an interface and make the interaction more engaging and memorable.

Gestalt Principle 8: Area and Size

Area and Size influence how elements are perceived in terms of their importance and order. Larger elements are often seen as more important, making this principle vital for emphasizing key UX components.

In a UX context, primary actions like ‘Sign up’ or ‘Buy now’ buttons might be made larger to draw attention and encourage clicks. Conversely, secondary information might be presented in a smaller font or less prominent position.

Understanding and applying the principles of area and size can help designers prioritize content effectively, ensuring that users interact with the most important elements first.

Gestalt Principle 9: Simplicity

Simplicity is fundamental in reducing cognitive load and making user interfaces more user-friendly. This principle advocates for uncluttered designs that focus on essential elements only.

In practical terms, simplicity can be achieved through minimalistic design that omits unnecessary details that do not support user tasks. For example, a clean and straightforward checkout process in an e-commerce app not only enhances the user experience but also reduces the risk of cart abandonment due to a complex or confusing layout.

Consider the example of Instagram. Despite its rich content offering, the simplicity of its design is often overlooked, yet it plays a significant role in its addictive nature. When you strip away all the content, what remains is a surprisingly minimalistic interface that retains only the essentials. This streamlined design is key to providing users with the best experience possible.

Principle of Simplicity

Emphasizing simplicity in UX design helps ensure that users are not overwhelmed with information, making the product more accessible and enjoyable to navigate.

Gestalt Principle 10: Experience

Experience refers to the impact of past interactions on current perceptions and behaviors. In UX design, understanding the user’s previous experiences can guide the creation of more intuitive interfaces.

For instance, if most users are accustomed to a particular layout or navigation style from other popular platforms, mirroring these elements in a new design can make the transition smoother and the learning curve less steep. This principle underscores the importance of user research and feedback in the design process.

A practical example from the e-commerce world is the placement of the shopping cart. Amazon was one of the first online retailers to position the shopping cart in the top right corner, where it commonly resides today. This location has since become a standard practice because it meets user expectations, shaped by their shopping experiences not just on Amazon, but also on other popular e-commerce sites like AliExpress and Zalando.

Integrating user experience into UX design decisions can significantly enhance user satisfaction and loyalty, as it creates a more familiar and comfortable environment for them.

How To Use The Gestalt Principles to Improve User Experience (UX)

In this section, we will apply each of the aforementioned Gestalt principles using a real-world example—an e-commerce website that sells clothing. By implementing these principles, UX designers and UX researchers can significantly improve the site’s usability, effectively guiding customers from browsing through to the ultimate goal of making a purchase.

1. Similarity: Creating a Cohesive Shopping Experience

On an e-commerce clothing website, the Gestalt Principle of Similarity can be utilized to create a visually cohesive experience. By using consistent design elements such as button styles, font choices, and a harmonious color scheme, the website can subtly inform users that items are related. 

For example, color-coding size options or sale items can quickly communicate status and guide decisions, making the shopping process more intuitive and less taxing.

2. Continuation: Guiding Customer Flow

The principle of Continuation in UX design directs the shopper’s eye through a seamless flow from one product category to another, enhancing the browsing experience. Aligning product images and text in a flowing, logical manner makes it easier for users to navigate through collections of clothing, such as transitioning from casual wear to formal wear.

This Gestalt approach ensures that customers are more likely to explore deeper into the site, increasing engagement and potential sales.

3. Closure: Engaging Shoppers with Partial Displays

In UX design, applying the principle of Closure can captivate and engage users by allowing them to mentally complete images. For a clothing site, showing part of a new collection in teaser images can intrigue shoppers, prompting them to click through to view complete outfits.

This technique leverages the human tendency to complete incomplete figures, making the browsing experience more interactive and memorable.

4. Proximity: Organizing Products for Better Usability

Using the principle of Proximity, related products or thematic elements can be grouped closely to suggest their connection.

On a clothing website, displaying accessories like belts, shoes, or bags near relevant outfits can suggest complete looks and increase cross-selling opportunities. Effective use of this principle reduces cognitive strain for shoppers by making relational inferences easier and faster.

5. Figure/Ground: Highlighting Key Elements

The Figure/Ground principle helps differentiate between key elements (figure) and the less important background (ground), making it crucial for highlighting new arrivals or special deals.

By designing distinct visual sections for promotional items, such as placing them on a contrasting background color, users can immediately discern what should capture their attention, thus enhancing the visibility of key campaigns or discounts.

6. Symmetry and Order: Balancing Aesthetics and Function

Implementing symmetry and order provides a balanced, aesthetically pleasing environment that can also enhance navigational ease.

On a clothing website, maintaining symmetrical layouts in product listings can convey a sense of order and professionalism. Orderly grids or lists make it easier for users to compare items and make selections without feeling overwhelmed.

7. Common Fate: Synchronizing Visual Elements

Common Fate in UX design involves synchronizing elements to move or act together, signaling their relationship. For example, hovering over a product category might simultaneously highlight associated sub-categories, guiding the user’s decision-making process.

This synchronized interaction supports smoother navigational flow and clearer understanding of the website structure.

8. Area and Size: Prioritizing Key Information

The use of Area and Size can direct attention to the most critical elements, such as ‘Add to Cart’ buttons or special discount badges, by making them larger or more prominently placed. This Gestalt Principle ensures that important purchasing actions are obvious and accessible, minimizing user effort and potentially increasing conversion rates.

9. Simplicity: Minimizing Distractions

In UX research and design, the principle of Simplicity encourages the reduction of unnecessary elements that do not support user tasks. For a clothing site, this might mean decluttering the interface to focus on product viewing and easy navigation.

A minimalist design helps users concentrate on products without distraction, potentially reducing bounce rates and enhancing user satisfaction.

10. Experience: Tailoring Interfaces to User Preferences

Finally, adapting interfaces to reflect users’ past behaviors and preferences can significantly enhance personalization and satisfaction. Using data from previous visits, a clothing site could highlight recently viewed items or suggest similar products, creating a personalized shopping experience that feels uniquely tailored to each user.

By applying these Gestalt principles in UX design for an e-commerce clothing website, UX designers can craft an intuitive and efficient shopping experience. These principles help in creating a site that not only looks good but also aligns perfectly with the psychological and perceptual needs of its users, ultimately driving better engagement and sales.

In conclusion, understanding and applying Gestalt principles in UX design and UX research can transform any platform or product from merely functional to profoundly intuitive and engaging. These principles, rooted deeply in psychological theories, offer a blueprint for organizing visual information in a way that aligns with human perception.

By systematically implementing strategies such as similarity, proximity, closure, and common fate, UX designers can create interfaces that not only attract but retain customer attention, making the journey from landing page to the desired outcome (purchase, subscription, etc.) seamless and stress-free. The examples discussed, from the strategic placement of a shopping cart to the minimalist design approach of popular apps like Instagram, illustrate the powerful impact of these principles on user satisfaction.

For UX researchers and professionals looking to refine their skills, embracing Gestalt principles is not just beneficial; it’s essential. These guidelines ensure that every element on a page is placed with purpose, enhancing overall usability and making the experience as natural and straightforward as possible.

Whether you’re a seasoned UX designer or just starting out, consider diving deeper into the Gestalt principles to provide users with exceptional experiences. Remember, great UX design isn’t just about aesthetics—it’s about creating environments that resonate with and respond to human behavior and expectations.

If you are looking to incorporate Gestalt principles into your product to boost its usability and ease of use, our team of experienced UX consultants would love to talk to you. Consider contacting us to discover more about our services and how we can support your goals.

FAQ About The Gestalt Principles

1. What are Gestalt Principles?

Gestalt Principles are psychological rules derived from Gestalt psychology that describe how humans naturally organize visual data into groups or unified wholes when certain principles are applied.

2. How do Gestalt Principles improve UX design?

Gestalt Principles improve UX design by helping designers create more intuitive and visually appealing interfaces that align with the natural human perception of elements, enhancing user interaction and satisfaction.

3. Can Gestalt Principles affect website conversion rates?

Yes, effectively applied Gestalt Principles can significantly improve user engagement and clarity, potentially increasing website conversion rates by making interfaces more user-friendly and navigable.

4. How does understanding Gestalt Principles benefit UX researchers?

For UX researchers, understanding Gestalt Principles provides valuable insights into how users perceive and interact with user interfaces, aiding in the creation of more effective studies and improvements in user experience design.

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