“ The study of gestalt originated in Germany in the 1920s. It is a form of psychology that is interested in higher order cognitive processes relative to behaviorism.” (Saw, 2000) . It is the primary work of Max Wertheimer (1880-1943) and his two colleagues Koffa and Kohler (Gestalt Theory, 1924) . “The German word gestalt cannot be translated into an equivalent, single English term. It encompasses such a wide variety of concepts: a shape, a pattern, a whole form, and a configuration. Gestalt… draws on all of these meanings, with equal emphasis on the organised whole and on the notion of pattern.” (Kirchner, 2003) .
the whole and its parts “ The importance of the theory for real-world learning is the attention which it draws to wholes .” (Atherton, 2005) . Max Wertheimer describes the importance of the whole, where its behaviour is not determined by the individual elements but where these elements are themselves determined by the nature of the whole (Gestalt Theory, 1924) . He uses the example of a musical tune to illustrate his point. A sequence of musical notes we recognise as a tune, we do not recognise the individual notes. If this tune was transposed to a different key signature, we would still recognise the tune and may not even notice the transposition. Thus, notes and other elements are part of a bigger picture; the whole tune (Gestalt Theory, 1924) . Musical example in original key (5 sec) Musical example in transposed key (5 sec)
balance/symmetry “ A visual object will appear as incomplete if the visual object is not balanced or symmetrical.” (Fisher et al. 1998-99 cited in Chang, Dooley & Tuovinen, 2002) The image on the right displays the element of balance and symmetry. The two squares in the centre could be used in other positions to illustrate the same elements, or they could be misplaced, which would visually create an imbalance. Play around with a pencil and sketch the three squares in a variety of positions.
figure/ground “ The terms figure and ground explain how we use elements of the scene which are similar in appearance and shape and group them together as a whole.” (Skaalid, 1999) . Often in pictures the background is considered the ground while the foreground focal is the figure . Figure and ground can be interchanged in some images depending on the use of colour. What other images can you find where figure and ground are merged or interchanged? Do an internet search.
Closure We see a complete cube and triangle because our minds react to patterns that are familiar (Skaalid, 1999). This works in these shapes because they are simple. The amount of information left out in more complex images needs careful consideration (Saw,2000) . “ A complex object is really a group of simple items that the mind puts together as a single entity.” (Saw, 2000) . In the images presented, our minds make up the missing elements of the pictures even though they do not exist. (Skaalid, 1999) . (Phenomenon,2008)
proximity “ The law of proximity states that items placed near each other appear to be a group.” (Fisher et al. 1998-99 cited in Chang, Dooley & Tuovinen, 2002) . “ Proximity relationships will generally dominate over similarity relationships. The strongest control is available when the two are used together.” (Saw, 2000) . In the image to the right we perceive vertical columns and two groups of vertical lines due to the proximity between the first and last two columns (Skaalid, 1999) .
continuation significant.” (Saw, 2000) . It is our eyes instinct to follow the road to the end of the path (Chang, Dooley & Tuovinen, 2002) . Google Image search for “The Last Supper” and you will notice the disciples all looking in the direction of Jesus, which our eyes naturally follow to the central figure (Saw, 2000) . “ Continuance describes a device for directing the viewer's attention when looking at a composition. It is based on the idea that once you start looking in a particular direction you will continue looking in that direction until you see something
similarity Similarity can be used in the same sense as continuation, to draw the viewers attention to a particular item (Chang, Dooley & Tuovinen, 2002) . When the amount of visual information becomes too much for the brain to compute, it begins to simplify by grouping items together (Saw, 2000) . The image to the right gives the impression of horizontal rows due to the similar colours used, yet the distance between the circles is equal (Skaalid, 1999) .
focal point Continuance and similarity draw our attention as previously noted. Generally, our attention is drawn to a particular item. This is called the focal point, centre of interest or point of emphasis (Chang, Dooley & Tuovinen, 2002) . The focal point “…persuades the viewer to follow the visual message further.” (Chang, Dooley & Tuovinen, 2002) . The image to the right shows squares and circles of the same size with one particular shape drawing our attention due to its colour. Have a look through an art book and take note of the artists focal points.
simplicity “ When learners are presented with visuals, there is an unconscious effort to simplify what is perceived into what the viewer can understand.” (Fisher et al. (1998-99) cited in Chang, Dooley & Tuovinen, 2002) . The visuals they see are organised cognitively through many of the past elements already discussed. The image of the southern cross alone is a good teaching tool, however, cluttered among other images is confusing (Chang, Dooley & Tuovinen, 2002) . It comes down to the age old saying: K eep I t S imple S tupid !
conclusion Teachers and designers of effective interface can benefit from applying the principles of Gestalt Theory to the presentation of their visual materials. By applying these elements they can control how the viewer perceives their presentations for positive learning outcomes and a pleasant, unconfused learning experience.
references Atherton, J.S. (2005) Learning and Teaching: Gestalt and learning. Retrieved 13th October 2008, from http:// www.learningandteaching.info/learning/gestalt.htm Chang, D., Dooley, L., & Tuovinen, J.E. (2002) Gestalt Theory in Visual Screen Design – A New Look at an Old Subject. Proceedings of the Seventh world conference on computers in education conference on Computers in Education: Australian topics, p.5-12, July 29-August 03, 2001, Copenhagen, Denmark . Retrieved 13th October 2008, from http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=820062&dl=GUIDE&coll=GUIDE&CFID=8090237&CFTOKEN=22035588 Gestalt Theory, (1924) Athenaeum Reading Room: Gestalt Theory 1924. Retrieved 13th October 2008, from http://evans-experientialism.freewebspace.com/wertheimer01.htm Kirchner, M. (2003) Gestalt Therapy Theory: An Overview. Retrieved 13th October 2008, from http://www.g-gej.org/4-3/theoryoverview.html Phenomenon, P. (n.d) Gestalt Images. Retrieved 25th October 2008, from http://pages.slc.edu/~ebj/hist-soc-cog/gestalt-images/ Saw, J.T. (2000) Design Notes: Gestalt. Retrieved 13th October 2008, from http:// daphne.palomar.edu/design/gestalt.html Skaalid, B. (1999) Gestalt Principles of Perception. Retrieved 13th October 2008, from http://www.usask.ca/education/coursework/skaalid/theory/gestalt/gestalt.htm Pastel Images inspired by: Chang et al . (2002); Skaalid (1999); Saw (2000); and re-created using Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop. Music Clip: “I Stand In Awe” written by Mark Altrogge (1986). Distributed by People of Destiny Music, 7881-B Beechcraft Ave, Gaithersburg, MD 20879, USA. 5 second clip from beginning of chorus.