Gestalt Principles and Web Design

A big part of graphic design in general and the web design we do in this class is communicating a message to a particular group of people (audience). The Gestalt Principles were created to help explain how people make sense of what they see. They are particularly useful for web design where we’re using a few basic items, shape, color, line, text, images, to communicate our message.

A brief history, the principles were created by German psychologists Max Wertheimer, Kurt Koffka and Wolfgang Kohler in the 1920’s to help explain how people make sense of all of the visual images that we see as we go through our day. They found that humans try to create order and meaning out of everything that we see. They detailed how we do this in a set of principles that are called the Gestalt Principles. For a long time, graphic designers have used these principles to help them make their designs easier to understand. To read more visit 

Instead of listing all of the principles at once, I will add them here one at a time as we go over them in class. If you’re interested and want to skip ahead, you can read the resources linked to at the bottom of the page.

Principle 1: Figure / Ground

When we look at something we try to determine what is important and needs our focus, figure, and what is not important and we can ignore, background. Another way to say this is foreground (figure) and background (ground). If you’ve done art you might have also heard of positive space (figure) and negative space (ground). 

Read the Figure/Ground post.

the words figure before ground set in a box that has a shadow and text shadows have been applied to the fonts

Principle 2: Proximity

Proximity is a simple yet powerful principle. To quote Andy Rutledgethings that are close to one another are perceived to be more related than things that are spaced farther apart”

eight boxes that appear to be in two groups of four because of the proximity, the distance between the boxes.

Read the Proximity Post

Principle 3: Connectedness

two groups of 8 boxes where in each group four boxes have been grouped through border or background color

Principle 4: Similarity

We tend to group things if they look similar to each other. These similarities can be based on a number of properties like size, shape or color.

In typography, the most common properties to use are color, font-family, font-weight, and font-size.

two columns of text, the one on the left styled with type properties, the one on the right unstyled.
The text on the left and right are exactly the same in HTML, but on the left, the CSS type properties have been changed to show which text is similar (h1, h2,h3, p).


Andy Routledge series on Gestalt Principles

  1. Figure Ground Relationships:
  2. Similarity:
  3. Proximity, Connectedness, Good Continuation: 
  4. Common Fate: 
  5. Closure: 


CSS Box Model

1 comment

Leave a comment