Why Gestalt theory matters in UX design
Gestalt is a strange word in English. It is borrowed from German, like Fahrvergnügen*, or Zeitgeist**, to explain the principle of human perception and visual processing.
The term Gestalt has been formulated in the early 19th century in the field of psychology. It is often used by psychologists to describe how we humans apprehend the world around us as whole structures or entities, and not as the billions of particles that it actually consists of.
Our brains cannot process all the tiny and microscopic details that present themselves, rather, we clump them into structures and patterns to formulate a whole.
So for instance, when we see a red rose, we don’t count the petals, or the number of stamens (the inner protruding stems that hold pollen), but we smell the rose, comment on its color, and make a note of how we are feeling happy, of experiencing something beautiful, and sometimes, we might even experience that a rose also comes with thorns.
The same goes for when we’re sitting in heavy traffic. We comment on the Gestalt of traffic, that traffic is bad, or stressful, and slowing us down to get to our destination. Our brain does not register each and every car, or the passengers inside the car. We experience traffic as a Gestalt.
For UX designers, Gestalt is a most useful concept, as it gets us to analyze and define patterns and trends, experiences and scenes.
Three main principles of Gestalt: similarity, proximity, and common region
Design thinkers have defined many different aspects of Gestalt, ranging from these main three to over 10+ varying principles. They incorporate aspects such as continuity, symmetry, focal points, or mirroring of information.