Gestalt psychology was based on the work of 3 psychologists, Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Kӧhler, and Kurt Koffka. It is based on the observation that we often experience things that are not part of our simple sensations. Wertheimer pointed out that we perceive motion where there is nothing more than a sequence of rapid sensory events, like when Christmas lights appear to course around a tree. This effect is called apparent motion and the basic principle of motion pictures.

Instead of seeing what is there, what we see is an illusion even though it is not a hallucination. This illusion is the effect of the whole event, and is not contained in the sum of the parts. The whole event contains relationships among the individual lights that we experience as well as each individual light lighting up.

We tend to experience the structured whole as well as the individual sensations and even add structure to events that do not have gestalt structural qualities.

Gestalt psychology is broken up into many organizing principles called gestalt laws. These laws are often used, not only in psychology, but in art and graphic design because it helps us predict how viewers will respond to a design. Below are 6 laws of Gestalt psychology.

1. Law of Proximity – Elements that are closer together will be perceived as a coherent object.  

2. Law of Similarity – Elements that look similar will be perceived as part of the same form.

3. Law of Good Continuation – Humans tend to continue contours whenever elements of the pattern establish an implied direction.

4. Law of Closure – Humans tend to enclose a space by completing a contour and ignoring gaps in the figure.

5. Law of Prägnanz (meaning pregnant with meaning) – A stimulus will be organized into as “good” a Gestalt as possible. Here, good means symmetrical, simple, and regular which then refer to specific gestalt laws.

In a picture of a leaf one utilizes the law of Prägnanz when one pulls back from the detail of the veins to see the stem and realize that you are looking at a leaf.

6. Law of Figure/Ground – A stimulus will be perceived as separate from its ground.