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Design and the Gestalt Principle of Closure

, 4 Sep 2012 CPOL
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The Gestalt Principles are based on the observation that people actively and subconsciously organize things into patterns and objects.  These principles are organized into Proximity, Similarity, Closure, Good Continuation, Common Fate, and Good Form.  They can be applied to all avenues of life.

The Gestalt Principles are based on the observation that people actively and subconsciously organize things into patterns and objects.  These principles are organized into Proximity, Similarity, Closure, Good Continuation, Common Fate, and Good Form.  They can be applied to all avenues of life.  Websites and applications that implement these principles see immediate improvement.  Although technology benefits from these principles they are not unique to computing.  They can be exploited in other areas such wedding invitations, furniture layout, gardening, scrapbooking, etc.  The following sections outline the principle of closure and how it affects the human mind.

The principle of closure states "there is an innate tendency to perceive incomplete objects as complete and to close or fill gaps and to perceive asymmetric stimuli as symmetric."  To simplify the previous statement, visual conclusions are drawn for incomplete objects. The mind is pre-programmed to seek out patterns and symmetry. If part of an object is missing, incomplete, or hidden, the mind makes an assumption to complete the object. This assumption is created by the current object or from a brain's prior interactions. It is important to human survival as threats can be identified without the complete picture.

The following examples outline the brain's ability to draw conclusions based on closure. In Figure A, the mind assumes the areas are overlapping and views the picture as two circles and one square. Figure B, accomplishes this same overlap but with words. The layering of the letters is irrelevant. The mind separates the two objects and completes them both. Figure C is an example of an incomplete object. The mind does not struggle to read this word although the 'S' lacks enclosed borders. Although closure is powerful, it has limitations. The degree of its effect is inversely proportional to the effort required. Figure D is incomplete but is deciphered as a square and circle. Figure E is the same picture with more incomplete areas and it much harder to discern. Closure is less likely to occur in this circumstance.

Figure A
Figure B

Figure C

Figure D
Figure E

Understanding the value and limits of closure can open many doors in design. It can be utilized to make an application or website more interesting and engaging. It also provides another level of differentiation which is becoming more elusive in design. Implementing closure techniques should be limited to key areas of a design. If too much closure is required, the cognitive load will exceed the mind's ability. Building closure into design is about providing enough information for the mind to build logical conclusions. Figure E from the previous section did not provide enough visual clues. Compare Figure D with Figure E. Does it need longer lines? Or corners drawn? Or a background color? The visual clues in a design should be instantaneous for viewers. When designing, don't forget to solicit feedback from friends and colleagues.

Final Thoughts

The closure principle is ubiquitous in daily life. It helps the mind make sense of its surroundings by constructing assumptions and building understandings. Unfortunately, closure can jump to conclusions too quickly at times. Everyone has found themselves in the scenario where a friend is recognized at a distance, but turns into a stranger upon closer evaluation. Regardless of these moments, closure is still a very powerful tool.

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)

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About the Author

Zac Gery

United States United States
Software Developer, Mentor, Architect and UX/UI craftsman. Also, a psychology nut that loves curling.
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