Gestalt psychology was initiated by Max Wertheimer (1880-1843) at the University of Frankfurt in 1912; he and his students Wolfgang Kohler (1887-1967) and Kurt Koffka (1887-1941) became its central theorists. Gestalt psychology challenged the traditional notion that the ability to make sense out of visual data is culturally learned; according to Gestalt theory, the brain spontaneously orders and simplifies sense data into structured, wholistic patterns. Wertheimer and Kohler worked in Berlin after 1914 and 1921 respectively; all three scientists immigrated to the United States in the 1930s, where they became a prominent intellectual force (Sahakian).
•suggest a mood
•direct the viewer’s eye
•direct the flow of content
•create emphasis in an area
Lines can be drawn or implied. An
implied line may be created by the
repetition of objects in a sequence, an
object that is thin and long (horizontal or
vertical), an object that creates a sort of
linear perspective or arrow, an object
that seems to be moving across the
page, a person’s gaze, etc..
Lines can also be decorative elements
(then called rules).
Lines vary in WEIGHT
• A horizontal line or arrangement usually
produces a feeling of rest and relaxation
or suggests stability.
• A vertical line brings to mind strength
• A diagonal line suggests movement.
• A curved line may suggest
gracefulness or fluidity.
Line is also implied in the
arrangement of objects on a page
• Shapes can be
geometric or free-
• Design is basically
shapes on a
• Shapes can be
space filled with
• Shapes can also be
space created by
• In graphic design
positive shapes are
also created by text.
Large letterforms are
complex in shape,
but body text is seen
as “gray rectangles.”
Size is used to convey
attention, create contrast,
and imply perspective or
Size only takes on
“scale” –size of an
object in relation to
the frame and to
the other objects.
• Offers realism
• Adds visual interest
• Suggests depth &
While texture is created of repeated elements that appear
3-dimensional, pattern is typically made of reapated elements that
are 2-dimensional. Pattern is associated with printed fabrics,
wallpaper, and the decorative arts
The artist selects, isolates, andThe artist selects, isolates, and
manipulates these elementsmanipulates these elements
for visual coherence.for visual coherence.
If all parts are working together,If all parts are working together,
the whole seems to be more than thethe whole seems to be more than the
sum of its parts.sum of its parts.
This is called theThis is called the gestaltgestalt..
founded in 1910 by Max Wertheimer,
and his students Kurt Koffka and Wolfgang Köhler
Introduced the notion that visual data is read in predetermined ways
by the human brain
the brain spontaneously orders and simplifies sense data into
structured, holistic patterns
in German gestalt means form/shape
“a unified physical, psychological, or
having properties that can not be derived
merely from its parts.”
(American Heritage Dictionary)
organizational essence of the world
holistic pattern seeking
a “digestible” whole
images are perceived as a pattern or a whole rather
than a sum of the distinctive parts
context plays a key role in perception
changing the relative size, for instance, changes the perceived
importance of these elements to each other
laws of visual organization
the parts of an image can be perceived as
distinct components, but the whole is greater
than—and different from—the sum of its
a collection of individual visual elements
communicate a gestalt which is a message
held together by design, while separately the
elements may be meaningless
we tend to impose meaning and structure on what we see
And make patterns out of chaos
So what is a Gestalt?
A gestalt is a unified whole.
Gestalts are Constructed from
Nature and Nurture
Architecture and our rectangular world has had a
dramatic Influence on our Interpretation of Lines, as
have the patterns repeated in nature.
We organize pieces into
construct wholes out of
and find meaning
where there was none
What is the gestalt of seeing?
Our visual process is influenced by characteristics of
perceived objects, such as:
• Contrast (of value/dark to light)
• Intensity (color/weight, expressiveness of line)
• Figure-ground separation (depth/dimension)
• Proximity/Grouping (clustering)
• Motion (& implied motion)
• Repetition (similarity) or Novelty (difference)
- isolating an
attention on it
In general, areas that are light in value, brightly colored, or highly
detailed draw the viewer’s attention more than areas that are dark,
dull, or less complex; they therefore carry visual intensity and
create a “focal point.”
the simplest and most stable interpretations are favored.
an object [form] is differentiated from its
surroundings [context, background] by
positive/negative space juxtaposition
the object must peel of its context to see
it as a separate form
if object can not be seen as an organized
structure, it can not be separated from its
Attributes such as sharpness, contrast and
contour can affect the perceived
Smaller areas tend to be seen as figures against
a larger background
A lack of negative space usually feels
uncomfortable -as it does when our personal
space is invaded or cramped...
principle of proximity states that by
grouping related items together,
they become one visual unit
Proximity by grouping items we
create a “whole” and
features which are close together are associated.
• Isolated figures have
more dominance than
those in clusters.
Focal point: area where the viewer’s
eye is compellingly drawn.
Techniques for drawing attention:
~ Placing a figure off by itself
~ Creating contrast around the figure
Proxemic PatternsProxemic Patterns
SizeScale provides contrast.
Typically larger items have predominance in a design, but if all the
objects are large, the one small one will have dominance through the
concept of novelty.
MotionOur brains search for some
stimulus in the environment to
serve as the assumed reference
point for stability.
Motion provides contrast to the
stability and demands our natural
Motion gets attention.
In 2D design, motion is
represented by imagery or may be
implied through line. Implied
motion in 2D work is sometimes
Motion may also be suggested by
a blurred item among many in
• Movement in the 2D plane is implied by eye pathMovement in the 2D plane is implied by eye path
• Activity attracts and holds attention.Activity attracts and holds attention.
We respond to designs that mirror the
repetitive growth patterns of nature.
Sometimes the understructure of a work of art
is planned to repeat a certain shape
Artists do this subconsciously or intuitively,
but to those interested in analyzing a
work of art, these devices become
features which look similar are associated
Repetition of similar or varying
elements in a design tends to set up
a visual rhythm. Rhythm creates a
harmony that adds to unity.
a sense of
Paradoxically, a 2nd way of suggesting
unity is to vary elements, as slight
variations repeating a central theme
or strong contrasts--a very rough-
textured area contrasted with a
very smooth-textured area, a very dark
area contrasted with very light, convex
shapes fitted into concave.
Opposites seem to complete each other.
interpretations which produce 'closed' rather than
'open’ figures are favored.
this principle of closure cuts across
the principle of proximity
natural tendency to close gaps and complete unfinished forms
Do you feel the quiet desire for the cube to be complete and neat?
Closure is most effective with
recognizable shapes & images.
Closure as Continuance
We tend to connect similar phenomena,
psychologically constructing a timeline
through them as a sequence...
(related to closure & implied movement)
Strong Common Fate
Weak Common Fate
Different Colors and Shape
Artists help viewers see a design as a unified whole by
balancing it visually.
Balance arranges all the elements and many of the
predominant gestalt attention getters.
In addition to shape position and size, remember,
visual weight is affected by color, value, and detail.
the relative balance within a composition can affect attention
Our judgment of balance is based largely on mechanical laws. A
composition must appear to be stable; that is, a large component such
as a tower must not be situated so far from what we take as a center of
gravity as to appear capable of tipping the remainder of the structure.
composition: is more
offers feeling of
Some image-makers convey intentSome image-makers convey intent
without using all traditional principles of design.without using all traditional principles of design.
Some intentionally violate the principles ofSome intentionally violate the principles of
harmony to create a sense of discord.harmony to create a sense of discord.
Sometimes artists intentionally unbalance a
design to create a disorienting effect.
Preferences for symmetry or asymmetry in
art change with the times. Also, much
artistic balancing is done intuitively rather
Emphasis = focal point
- where the eye is drawn
- intentional (“by design”) focusing of
viewer attention to a single point in the
- created by predominance of main
objects, well-paced negative/positive
space, and effective eye path
- simplifies message/meaning
6 Rules of Focal Emphasis
•Objects in the upper left quadrant of a frameObjects in the upper left quadrant of a frame
have focal prominence.have focal prominence.
•Large objects get noticed.Large objects get noticed.
•Bright objects are more visible than dark on screen.Bright objects are more visible than dark on screen.
•Bright colors are more predominant than dull ones.Bright colors are more predominant than dull ones.
•White space next to the focal drawsWhite space next to the focal draws
the eye to the object.the eye to the object.
•Unusual shapes, camera angles, andUnusual shapes, camera angles, and
diagonal lines get noticed.diagonal lines get noticed.
Items now aligned--better sense of connection/unity
principle of alignment states that
1) nothing should be placed on a
principle of alignment states that
1) nothing should be placed on a
2) every item should have a visual
connection with something else on
Other Elements of
• sophistication- Is the design contemporary, trendy, elegant,
• visual intrigue – Does it surprise? Do we see something we
haven’t seen before?
• entertainment – Do the images tell a story? Does the composition
portray energy and drama?
• suspense – Does the image hook the audience with what it
conceals and promises to reveal?
• theme – Does it draw on metaphors, myths, and analogies to the
A final principle to consider in
organizing a shot is economy:
eliminating elements that might distract
attention from the essence of what the
director needs to communicate.
Framing the SubjectFraming the Subject
• Headroom: space between
the top of a subject’s head
and the upper edge of the
• Noseroom or look space:
Space between the subject
and the side of the camera
frame toward which she is
• Leadroom: Space between
the subject and the side of
the camera frame toward
which she is moving