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How Can The Knowledge Of The Gestalt Laws Of Gestalt Pshychology Help A Visual Communication Designer To Produce More Effective Designs?

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How important is it to take into consideration the gestalt laws when you communicate visually. Is it possible that a good knowledge of them can help a designer to be more effective. And in that case, in what way.

The Gestalt Laws was first written by Max Wertheimer in 1923 and is common laws that shows that different shapes creates wholes and was needed for the Gestalt Psychology to work practically.

These laws were created in such a way that nobody would have to learn them but would appear in different cultures and with babies as well as animals. The laws that later were acknowledge are:

The law of proximity

According to the law of proximity parts are gruped together first and formeost according to the principle of closeness. The lines that are closest to each other in figure 1 are groupes as pairs or stripes. The dots closest to each other are gruoped in lines separated by the greater distance.

The law of closed forms

According to the law of closed forms parts are grouped together to create shapes. Our mind adds missing elements to create figures. The law of closed forms is stronger than the law of proximity and can outrule the principle of closeness. In figure 2a the lines 1 and2, 3 and 4, 5 and 6 etc. combine to form pairs. But in figure 2b the lines 2 and 3, 4 and 5, 6 and 7 etc. are combined.

The law of similarity

In a system with different elements, parts that are similar tend to form groups. I real life there is often a battle between the law of proximity and the law of similarity. In figure 3 the bold lines are grouped together. The empty circles are seen as columns, as are the black circles.

The law of good contour

When common geometrical figures are combined in a composition they outrule the law of proximity with their strong shape. In figure 4a you see a straight line crossed by pair pf lines. The four individual part of the straight line a good contour and seem to be continuations of each other, they belong together. In figure 4b you divide the composition to a circle and a pentagon rather than what is shown in figure 4c.

The law of commom movement

In dynamic systems groups that moves in the same directions are grouped together and outrules the former rules. A group of men, for example a marching army, are a good example of this law.

The law of PrÐ"¤gnanz

This is the most basic law. It says that people try to see things in as good a gestalt way as possible. The smiley (figure 5) is just one example. Instead of interpreting it as multiple independent characters we see a face.

Figure ground Relationship

The human sees either figure elements or ground elements. Figure elements are the objects of focus while ground elements compose an undifferentiated bakground. When it is clear what is figure and what is ground elements the composition is clear. When it is not clear, the composition can be interpreted in different ways. The Rubin vase in figure 6 is a classic example.

The law of experience

In school we learn to recognice for example letters. Just as with the law of good contour this makes us see shapes we know much clearer. This can outrule the other laws. One who knows the latin alphabet sees the three lines in figure 7 as a capital "E".

It is to be said that my explanation of the laws is not universal. Many laws crosses each other and other people may have more or less rules.

The term Visual Communication Design is subject for many and long interpretations. Especially the definition of the word design in common speech has contributed to all the wrong interpretations of the profession Visual Communication Designer. Frascara (2004, p. 2) writes that visual communication is an activity where the designer concieve, program, project and realize visual communications that are are produced through industrial means and are aimed at broadcasting messages to specific sectors of the public. The visual communication designer works to interpret, organize and visually present messages.

The reason to why I have chosen to ask this question is that I in many books about the basics in visual communication design have read about the gestalt laws. Most books describes them, explains how they work and that it is important to know about them. But none explains how to use them. Why are they so important to know about. If the laws, with exeption of the sixth law, the law of experience, is stored in our brains from birth there is no need to learn them. They should come naturally when you design. "It is only natural," writes Katz (1951, p. 29), "that inner Gestalt tendencies differ from one individual to another, varying especially with their interests and activities". For example he writes that an artist through his training is provided with certain definite form tendencies. Can it be that visual communication designers through studies of the target audience can use the laws in a way that is better suited for the specific message.

The Gestalt Psychology, that the Gestalt Laws are a part of has been subject to a lot of research and there is numerous books that writes about this. Even though there is so much more about Gestalt Psychology than these "Laws of Perception" most books dedicates at least a chapter for them. The Gestalt Psychology is also often mentioned in books and writings on design and art (paintings, photography etc.).

In his book about Gestalt Psychology David Katz (1951, p. 22) gives an example that supports my hypothesis that studies of the target audience's form tendencies.

Let the reader imagine himself seated at his desk. Before him are a typewriter, writing paper, an inkwell, som books, a pack of cigarettes, matches, and an ashtray. These are strewn about in some disorder. Why is it that each object appears as an independent entity? The laymna might consider the qestion so superfluous that he would take it as further evidence that psychology is the science of useless knowledge. Actually the question is by no means superfluous, particularly

when regarded in the light of Gestalt theory.

He asks the question why the inkwell and the ashtray that happens to be visually contiguous, and acoording to the law of similarity should appear as one unit, does not do that. "Since the typewriter partially obscures a pad of paper , why are these objects not seen as one unit?", as the

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