The Gestalt of Slides


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An interactive tutorial on applying the Gestalt Principlef of Visual Perception to slide design.
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  • Copyright 2010 Glenna Shaw
  • The Gestalt of Slides

    1. 1. The whole is other than the sum of its parts A Tutorial for Presenters and Slide Designers By Glenna Shaw
    2. 2. This tutorial is organized into sections. Each section contains an introductory page and multiple instructional pages. Instructional pages are organized into text and interactive images. Most images can be clicked multiple times to go back and forth to illustrate the concepts. Click on the menu items to jump to different sections Use the navigation buttons shown below to move through the pages.Click this button to Click this button Click these buttons to go toreturn to this page to go to the menu the next/previous pages
    3. 3. Gestalt psychology was developed during the 1920s bythree German psychologists: Wertheimer, Kafka andKohler. Gestalt is a German word meaning the essenceor shape of an entity’s complete form. Thesepsychologists found that we subconsciously segregateand group visual information in order to perceive it as a gestaltwhole.Gestalt Principles demonstrate a set of consistentbehaviors or rules pertaining to these visualperceptions. And these principles universally apply toall human beings.As presenters and/or slide designers, knowledge of these principles can be apowerful tool. We can successfully organize and group elements on our slidesto be easily understood (or perceived) by our audience. By using GestaltPrinciples we can enhance the communicative power of our slides.Today there are more than 114 principles. I’ve chosen to demonstrate theones I consider most relevant to presentations and slide design.
    4. 4. I recently had the pleasure of drawing with my 4 year old grandson. He asked me to show him how to draw a house. Instead of simply drawing a house, I decided to show him how he could put together shapes (a triangle, several rectangles and a circle) to draw a recognizable house.The look on his face was pure wonderment and I had the joy of experiencing thatmagical moment when he made a significant cognitive leap. As human beings, weperceive what we see as a whole intuitively. We must cognitively choose todeconstruct images. The Principles of Gestalt document the laws governing thisbehavior of visual perception.I already planned to write an entry on my blog,, about the Principles ofGestalt. Originally I intended to simply explain the 6 main principles of Gestalt appliedto slide design. However, I so enjoyed the experience with my grandson, that I decidedto create this more extensive tutorial.As you complete this tutorial it is my fondest hope that you experience your ownsense of wonderment, that ah-ha moment when you understand why certainelements on your slides work so effectively and others do not.
    5. 5. Have you ever wondered whyoptical illusions work?Consider the image at topright. I can assure you thecircles are perfectlysymmetrical and the lines ofthe square are straight, yetwhen one is placed on top theother, both appear bent.Now consider the image atbottom right. What stands outwhen you look at this image?Does this image clearly presenta message? Would you use thisimage in a presentation? Doyou know why or why not?
    6. 6. In1915, Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin introduced aseries of cognitive illusions that laid the ground work forGestalt theories of visual perception.Figure/Ground Organization articulates our visual fieldinto two components, the figure and background.Consider Rubin’s famous image on this page. Do you seea vase or two faces? Notice that you cannot see both atonce. You must change your perspective of theforeground and background to perceive one or theother.While this may seem a simple concept of contrast, figure/groundorganization is actually much more complicated. It gives the perceptionof depth and is impacted by changes to the boundary of the objects.Slides are the perfect medium for Figure/Ground Organization since theywill always have a 2D background upon which objects are placed.
    7. 7. Boundary is the edge area of the objects (where they touchone another.) Attributes of the boundary create the illusion ofdepth. Depending on the grouping (or edge-assignment) ofthe boundary, the figure will be seen in the foreground or thebackground.Click several times on the images below to alternate betweenedge assignments. Edge is assigned an internal external Is this a rectangle shadow sending or a hole? bringing the the figure to figure the to the foreground. background.
    8. 8. The smaller of two objects will be seen as a figure against a larger background. Click on the red rectangle at left to see this principle applied.In the images at right thevase is favored on the leftand faces are favored on theright because of theprinciple of smallness.
    9. 9. Surrounded areas tend to be seen as figures.Surroundedness is one of the strongest principles ofvisual perception and will frequently supersedeother principles when applied to the same object.Click several times on the shapes below to see thisprinciple in action.
    10. 10. Sufficient contrast is neededto differentiate objects frombackground. This is TextWithout enough contrastthe objects blend into the This is Textbackground.Click once on the text at This is Textright to see this principle. This is TextJust as animals depend uponthis principle for purposes of This is Textcamouflage, it can be usedto hide or highlight objectson slides.
    11. 11. Figures are more easily seenwhen oriented horizontallyor vertically.The blue propeller standsout in this orientation.Click several times on thepropeller to see the change.The white areas are moreeasily seen as figures whenoriented horizontally andvertically.
    12. 12. Symmetrical objects standout as figures. Asymmetricalobjects are perceived asincomplete.Do you see two diamonds atleft or three asymmetricalobjects?Click once on the diamondsto see the change.Two diamonds stand out asfigures when they aresymmetrical.
    13. 13. When all things are equal, convex(protruding) rather than concave(indented) patterns tend to beperceived as figures.Click several times on the buttonsat right to create your ownpatterns.Click several times on the bluebackground to see how theprinciple of surroundednessaffects your preference forconvexity.If an object is presented as 3D, itis using the principle of convexityeven if the object is concave.Convexity is a weak principle.
    14. 14. Gestalt psychologists found that we perceive ourworld holistically. From a visual standpoint, weorganize what we see into patterns and groups inorder to make sense of it.This is especially true when looking at forms andshapes on a two dimensional surface.Gestalt psychologists identified a number ofconsistent behaviors in how the mind groupsobjects depending on factors such asspacing, alignment, similarity, etc.In the image at right you can see not one, but twotriangles. The little pacman type objects give your brain the visual clues thatallow you to intuit the existence of the second triangle.These abilities were and are very important skills. We wouldn’t have survivedvery long if we couldn’t spot a camouflaged predator.As slide designers, knowledge of these principles of grouping enables us toclearly communicate our message without ambiguity.
    15. 15. We tend to recognize shapesand groupings when they areseen frequently. This allows usto recognize them even whena part is missing or they’re outof context. Traffic signs relyheavily on this principle.However, familiarity (or pastexperience) is the weakestprinciple and easily overcomewith very little change.Click the images at left severaltimes to see if yourperceptions of the objectschange.
    16. 16. When presented withincomplete visualinformation, we instinctivelyfill in the blanks. Although thestructures at right areopen, we perceive them as acircle and a square. The iconic image at left is easily recognizable even though it is incomplete. Closure relies, in part, on past experience. Click the image several times to experience this principle.
    17. 17. Shapes tend to be perceived as awhole when they are aligned toeach other or appear to form acontinuous pattern.This is what enables us toperceive the continuation of aroad even though we cannot seethe end of the road.This principle can be easilyinterrupted by changing thepattern of the objects so thatthey no longer appearcontinuous.Click several times on the threesegments at right to experimentwith the principle of continuity.
    18. 18. We intuitively groupobjects that are similar insize, shape, color andorientation.Click several times on theobjects at left to formyour own groupings basedon different aspects ofsimilarity.
    19. 19. Proximity is one of the strongestprinciples.The closer objects are to oneanother the more likely they areto be perceived as a whole.Click once on the objects at rightto see this principle applied tothe ten objects. The ten objects are now perceived as 3 groups despite their similarities or differences. Since letters are also perceived as objects, we depend on proximity to separate letters into words. Click on the word at left to see how critical the principle of proximity can be.
    20. 20. Also known as common fate, this principle states that objectsthat move in the same direction or appear to move in thesame direction will be perceived as a group.Click on the purple objects to see this principle applied.Notice, once the motion stops, the objects on the left are nolonger perceived as a group. The objects on the right maintaintheir grouping since the common fate is illustrated by thearrows rather than an actual movement.
    21. 21. When objects areconnected, they are perceivedas a single figure. This principleis stronger than nearly anyother principle.The objects at left appear astwo groups based on theprinciples of similarity andproximity.Click on the objects at leftseveral times to add/ removeconnections.The objects will appear to bethree figures when connected.
    22. 22. The principle of enclosure, alsoknown as common area, is similarto surroundedness. When objectsare enclosed by lines or placedwithin a common container theywill appear as a single figure.Enclosure is thought to be thestrongest principle.Click on the objects once to seethe impact of enclosure by a line.The enclosing line is ambiguousbecause of the connectionbetween the green and purpleobjects. When the enclosed area is filledClick again to see the impact of with color the ambiguity isenclosure within a common removed since the principle ofarea. common area is stronger.
    23. 23. Pragnanz, German for clarity or conciseness, is ..known as the principle of good form. By now youknow that we have organizational tendencies in ourvisual perceptions, the way in which the humanbrain decides that things we see go together.For figures to have pragnanz, also known as good ..gestalt, they should be assimple, orderly, balanced, unified, coherent, regular, etc. as possible. ..The image at right is a simple example of pragnanz.The principles you’ve learned in this tutorial governhow we resolve what we see. Each principle standson its own when there is no conflict or competing factors. However, whenpresented with ambiguous stimuli, there is an hierarchical component to theprinciples.Although the exact order of this hierarchy is still being debated today, I’vepresented my own guidance on this hierarchical structure in this section.As slide designers, we should strive to practice good gestalt, ensuring ourvisual communications will be perceived with clarity.
    24. 24. My findings for thehierarchical relationships This is Textfor the principles ofFigure/GroundOrganization are shown atright. I’ve included visualreminders from the lessonswith each principle.Contrast is a requirementfor all figure/groundorganization becausewithout it the figurecannot be seen.Boundary is also present inall images even when thatboundary is ambiguous.Convexity is the weakestprinciple.
    25. 25. My findings for the hierarchical relationships for the principles of Perceptual Grouping are shown at left. I’ve included visual reminders from the lessons with each principle. All images will have at least one of the principles of Perceptual Grouping. The primary message conveyed by an image will depend on the strongest principle applicable to theSTOP image.
    26. 26. As many people know, Psychology is an imperfectscience. And the Gestalt Principles ofPerception, like most things in psychology, areopen to interpretation.The lessons you’ve just completed are my owninterpretations of Gestalt Principles as theyrelate to slide design.They are presented as guidance to help clarifyyour visual communications.The following pages offer you ten opportunities to practice your ownanalysis of images using the principles you’ve just learned.Examine each image and determine which principles you think are mostapplicable to the image.You then have the opportunity to see my analysis of the image.
    27. 27. Click to select the principles that apply to the image Boundary Familiarity Smallness Closure Surroundedness Continuity Contrast Similarity Orientation Proximity Symmetry Motion Convexity Connectivity EnclosureClick here to see my analysis Connectivity is strongest principle conveyed in this image. This image is good for a message about a series of steps or a sequence of events. Because connectivity is stronger than the principle of motion, this image needs an arrow added to convey a message of moving up or down with visual clarity. An image of an escalator is a better image to convey a message of motion.
    28. 28. Click to select the principles that apply to the image Boundary Familiarity 6 Series 1 Series 2 Series 3 5 Smallness Closure 4 Surroundedness Continuity 3 Contrast Similarity 2 Orientation Proximity 1 Symmetry Motion 0 Convexity Connectivity 1st Qtr 2nd Qtr 3rd Qtr 4th Qtr EnclosureClick here to see my analysis The principle of closure allows us to present this graph without needing to display the plot area or gridlines. We automatically fill in the plot area. Proximity is the strongest principle in this graph. The bars appear as four groups. Although the principle of similarity is used in the form of color to differentiate the series, it’s eclipsed by the proximity of the groupings and requires more effort to understand the data. There is no continuity of the series. A line graph is a better choice to display this information.
    29. 29. Click to select the principles that apply to the image Boundary Familiarity Smallness Closure Surroundedness Continuity Contrast Similarity Orientation Proximity Symmetry Motion Convexity Connectivity EnclosureClick here to see my analysis The principles of surroundedness, contrast and convexity ensure that the button is the focal point of this image. Although the orientation is not vertical, it doesn’t detract significantly from this image because the other figure/ground organization is so strongly depicted. The predominant grouping principle is motion. This is an excellent image to convey a message about upward motion.
    30. 30. Click to select the principles that apply to the image Boundary Familiarity Topic Topic Topic Smallness Closure Surroundedness Continuity Subtopic Subtopic Subtopic Contrast Similarity Orientation Proximity Subtopic Subtopic Subtopic Symmetry Motion Convexity Connectivity EnclosureClick here to see my analysis This Smart Art graphic conveys a message of relationships using the principles of similarity, proximity and enclosure. It is clear to the audience the categorized relationship between the topics and subtopics. This is a splendid method to display ordered relationships of objects as shown.
    31. 31. Click to select the principles that apply to the image Boundary Familiarity Smallness Closure Surroundedness Continuity Contrast Similarity Orientation Proximity Symmetry Motion Convexity Connectivity EnclosureClick here to see my analysis The principles of contrast, smallness and familiarity ensure that the message of stop on this pedestrian crosswalk sign is clearly conveyed. However, the non-vertical orientation allows the yellow triangles to compete and detract from the message. This image would more clearly convey the message if it were vertically aligned and the yellow triangles were cropped out of the image.
    32. 32. Click to select the principles that apply to the image Boundary Familiarity Smallness Closure Surroundedness Continuity Contrast Similarity Orientation Proximity Symmetry Motion Convexity Connectivity EnclosureClick here to see my analysis This image uses the principles of boundary, surroundedness and contrast to place all the focus on the cup of dark liquid. It significantly stands out as the focal point of the image. The brie cheese in the upper right corner is nearly invisible with the lack of contrast against the white paper. The principles of familiarity and proximity (of the bread to the cup) allows for significant ambiguity in this image. Does the cup contain coffee or au jus? You might use this image to convey it’s time for a break since it doesn’t really matter what’s in the cup.
    33. 33. Click to select the principles that apply to the image Boundary Familiarity Smallness Closure Surroundedness Continuity Contrast Similarity Orientation Proximity Symmetry Motion Convexity Connectivity EnclosureClick here to see my analysis This image obviously relies on the principles of familiarity and closure to mentally complete the image of a woman. Familiarity further reinforces the concept of a business woman because of the proximity of the briefcase. The principle of motion also applies because the woman is taking a step forward in the perspective of the image. This is a good image to convey a message of career advancement for women.
    34. 34. Click to select the principles that apply to the image Boundary Familiarity Big Boss Smallness Closure Surroundedness Continuity Little Boss Assistant Contrast Similarity Orientation Proximity Worker Bee Symmetry Motion Senior Helper Worker Bee Worker Bee Helper Convexity Connectivity Worker Bee EnclosureClick here to see my analysis This organizational chart uses the principles of surroundedness, symmetry, similarity and proximity to clearly convey the message of hierarchy. The principles of enclosure, similarity and proximity are used rather than connectivity (as you might see in a more traditional org chart.) This is an outstanding graphic to use to convey a message about a hierarchical structure that doesn’t have too many levels.
    35. 35. Click to select the principles that apply to the image Boundary Familiarity Smallness Closure Surroundedness Continuity Contrast Similarity Orientation Proximity Symmetry Motion Convexity Connectivity EnclosureClick here to see my analysis This timeline Smart Art graphic relies primarily on the principles of continuity and similarity. An image with the principles of motion or connectivity might more clearly convey the message of moving through time. This graphic is perfect for conveying a timeline that has incremental instances of importance, such as the milestones shown above.
    36. 36. Click to select the principles that apply to the image Boundary Familiarity Smallness Closure Surroundedness Continuity Contrast Similarity Orientation Proximity Symmetry Motion Convexity Connectivity EnclosureClick here to see my analysis This image is most strongly influenced by the principles of contrast and convexity. The contrasting colors and the attributes of the boundary ensure the indentation in the building stands out as well as ensuring the building itself stands out against the lighter sky. The lack of vertical orientation does not significantly impact the clarity of the image because the other principles are so strong. This is a terrific image to convey a message about heights or goals.
    37. 37. Rudolf Arnheim (2004) Art and Visual Russell A. Dewey, PhD (2008) Psychology:Perception: A Psychology of the Creative An Introduction. Chapter 4, Senses andEye, Fiftieth Anniversary Printing. PerceptionVicki Bruce, Mark A. Georgeson, and Dempsey Chang, Laurence Dooley andPatrick R. Green (2003) Visual Juhani E. Tuovinen (2002) Gestalt TheoryPerception: Physiology, Psychology and in Visual Screen Design – A New Look atEcology. Chapter 6, Perceptual an Old Subject.Organisation Lisa Graham (2008) Gestalt Theory inRobert Snowden, Peter Thompson, and Interactive Media Design. Journal ofTom Troscianko (2006) Basic Vision: An Humanities and Social Science, VolumeIntroduction to Visual Perception. 2, Issue 1, 2008Rudolf Arnheim (2004) Visual Thinking: David S. Touretzky & Ethan Tira-Thirty-Fifth Anniversary Printing. Thompson (2009), Gestalt Perception. 15-494 Cognitive RoboticsStephen Few (2006) InformationDashboard Design: The Effective Visual Michael Britt, PhD (2007) The Psych Files.Communication of Data. Chapter Episode 31: Lemon Slices and a New Face4, Tapping into the Power of Visual on Mars! Gestalt Principles at WorkPerception Dejan Todorovic (2008) Gestalt Principles. Scholarpedia, 3(12):5345
    38. 38. Geetesh No product is ever createdBajaj, in a vacuum and this tutorial is no exception. It wouldSteve not be as polished as youRindsberg, are seeing it without the generous review, feedback, editingEcho and creative ideas from theSwinford, folks you see at left. They are an extremelyJulie talented group and ITerberg, encourage you to visit their sites to learn more about and from them.
    39. 39. As I’ve previously stated, the purpose of this tutorial is to provide presenters and slide designers with the informational tools to increase the visual clarity of their products. This tutorial does not provide specific information on design,although visual clarity is a contributing factor to good visual aesthetics.All findings and conclusions expressed within this tutorial are my ownopinions. You’ll also find that there are anomalies to any theory. I find thatmy eyes are drawn to concave objects before convex objects, which is why Iunderlined the word tend on that particular principle.For more authoritative findings, please refer to my sources and draw yourown conclusions. Glenna Shaw December 2010