Applying Gestalt Principles in UI/UX App Design

Discover how the foundational principles of visual perception can be applied to enhance the user experience in your app.

Applying Gestalt Principles in UI/UX App Design
Two examples of optical illusions.

The perception of visual elements

The conviction to fully control the mind is a natural belief of every individual. We think we are the ones deciding what we want to focus on and what to pay attention to. However, the reality is that our perception is not something we can control. Some principles determine how people naturally perceive visual elements, which factors are most effective in any given circumstances, influence perception, direct concentration, and cause behavioral change.

A fundamental understanding of these principles is crucial for visual designers to manipulate attention, guiding the user through a graphical interface. So let’s try to understand how the human eyes perceive visual elements or, to be more precise, how the human eyes trick our minds.

For instance, the cover of this article is an optical illusion where our mind is distracted by the arrows at the end of each vertical segment: the three lines have the same length, but our mind perceives that they are different. As another example, our mind perceives three squares, but in reality, only the first is a square, while the other two are vertical and horizontal lines.

Our brain tries to make sense of the world by comparing previous experiences or visual patterns and connecting the dots. It has its own “weird” way of perceiving shape and form, grouping information, and filling in the gaps to draw the big picture.

Among the different artists who played with human eye perception, the figure of Maurits Cornelis Escher, a German graphic artist, stands out. Through his work, he invites the user to observe nature from a diverse point of view to bring out the beauty of geometric regularities, elusive at first glance but (for those who catch it) capable of generating wondrous magic. The goal of Escher is to denounce the inability of the human eye to perceive reality objectively since it is irreplicable if not in the form of illusion itself. What the artist does is play with visual perception through Gestalt principles.

On the left the Waterfall lithograph by Escher. On the right the game Monument Valley, developed by Ustwo Games.

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