How do you explain Gestalt theory

Gestalt theory

The Gestalt theory is an interdisciplinary theory that deals with the human organization of perception. She tries to explain the laws according to which humans combine individual, sensually perceptible elements into new shapes with their own holistic properties.

Origin and representative of the Gestalt theory

The Gestalt theory describes a school or direction of psychology that deals with the holistic perception of phenomena. The foundation stone of the theory was laid by the physicist, psychologist and philosopher Ernst Mach with his book "The Analysis of Sensation" published in 1886. Mach's basic idea that the form as a whole dominates through further distinguishing features in the perception of objects, was adopted by Christian Ehrenfels in his work “Über Gestaltqualitäten” (1890). Around 1910, the psychologists Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Köhler and Kurt Koffka developed the resulting approaches to a theory and became the actual founders of the "School of Gestalt Theory".

Basic idea of ​​the Gestalt theory

The core thesis of Gestalt theory says “that psychological phenomena can only be understood if they are understood as an organized whole and not broken down into simple perceptual elements” (Zimbardo, 2004). The “shape” itself is defined as a clearly recognizable wholeness that appears to be self-contained and spontaneously organizes itself during the perception process. According to Ehrenfels, it is more than just the sum of its individual parts (Oversummativity) and is retained as a shape even if all of its individual elements are exchanged (Transposability).

Gestalt qualities

The Gestalt theorists have summarized the various characteristics of shapes under the concept of gestalt qualities. According to Metzger, these are the qualities that remain of a shape if one disregards all the properties of the individual elements of the shape. The Gestalt qualities can be divided into three groups:
Under the Structural and structural properties basically all properties of the basic character, the arrangement and the structure of a shape such as round, angular and wavy. To the Material qualities include material properties such as clear, smooth, shiny and soft. The Character and expressive qualities describe mood and feeling values ​​of shapes and forms such as gentle, peaceful and friendly. The Gestalt theorists establish relationships between structural properties and essential properties, i. H. certain forms are associated with feelings. When perceiving a figure, the observer usually perceives the essential characteristics most intensely (so-called primacy of the whole).
Basically, only the structural properties can be methodically examined and described (so-called methodological primacy of the structure). The material qualities, which relate to the shape as a whole, can only be described and explained using the structural properties. The design laws dealt with in the following section therefore all relate to the structural properties.

Gestalt laws

The Law of good shape, also Conciseness law called, is the superordinate law for the perception of objects. It says that individual elements are combined to form shapes, in that our perception system brings together optical impressions based on concise properties such as simplicity, symmetry or cohesion into structures, the "shapes". The shape encompasses more than the sum of its parts, the parts being determined by the shape. The following sub-rules are subject to the Prägnanzgesetz, which Gestalt laws.

  • Law of Figure and Ground
A whole field seen is divided into a clearly seen figure in the foreground and a diffuse ground in the background. It is not possible to perceive both elements at the same time. The reason for the differentiation lies in the distinction between the essential and the inessential.
Elements of the same shape or color are grouped together.
Elements in spatial proximity are experienced as belonging together.
  • Law of unity
Lines that enclose an area are regarded as a unit.
Symmetrical structures are viewed more as figures than asymmetrical structures; asymmetrical ones, on the other hand, are more likely to be recognized as a background.
  • Law of continuing or equal course
Incomplete lines usually continue in the same way they started. Only fragments and hints of shapes are enough to complete them in terms of a “good shape”.
Complex, strange phenomena are deciphered with the help of known things that have been interpreted into them.

The importance of gestalt theory for information science

With regard to the interface design, the gestalt laws generally help to create clarity and order. Guidelines such as the law of closeness, unity, equality and symmetry, icons and the overall picture can be graphically designed more concisely. They provide instructions on how to meaningfully link visual elements with one another in order to create a clear screen layout and to create clear figure-ground relationships.


  • Metzger, Wolfgang (1986): Gestalt psychology. Frankfurt
  • Schulz, Angelika (1998): Interface design. The visual design of interactive computer applications. Röhrig University Press, St. Ingbert
  • Zimbardo, Philip G .; Gerrig, Richard J. (2004): Psychology. 16th edition. Pearson study