Implementation of Gestalt Principles into Modern Day Logos
The human brain works wonders in unexplainable ways; we are hard-wired to see patterns, logic, and structure and make sense of this multiplexed world.
In the 1920s, German psychologists proposed a series of theories explaining how humans see the world.
People know these theories as the Gestalt Principles.
The Backstory Of Gestalt Principles
Gestalt was not a designer – let’s just put that out there.
He wasn’t even a person.
As mentioned above, the principles are the brainchild of German Psychologists Max Wertheimer, Kurt Koffka, and Wolfgang Kohler, who were all interested in finding out how humans extract information and meaningful perceptions from chaotic stimuli – the compulsion we all have to seek order in disorder.
Now, this may seem like a far cry from graphics (especially from logo design), but much to your surprise, you can use their principles to guide design decisions you make.
Many designers and advertisers have been capitalising on Gestalt principles and space for an age. So, let’s get to it, shall we?
Closure or Reification
The human brain can fill in the gaps!
The law of closure or reification describes our brain’s ability to fill in the missing parts of a shape to complete it.
A dashed line, for example, can still form a circle or square for us.
In that way, having lines that are not closed completely doesn’t stop us from creating familiar shapes in our mind.
A great example of this is the Adidas logo.
The three marquise shapes form the leaves (trefoil), but the apparent strike-throughs seamlessly create the signature three stripes of the Adidas brand.
Still, these stripes don’t stop us from seeing the whole image – they simply add another layer of complexity to it.
But how would you use this to your advantage?
Well, if you want to make something monotone, reduce all the shaded portions to black, and leave the rest transparent.
Even with minimal information, our mind can leap the gaps to form pictures – like the WWF logo, for example (the World Wildlife Fund, not the Wrestling guys…)
Proximity or Common Fate/Region
This principle states that we group things that are moving in the same direction, and that we also imperceptibly group items by their proximity to other elements.
This allows us to interpret many small parts acting as a whole, which can be useful in design when we want to add patterns or textures to something, without losing the overarching image.
A great example of this principle in action is the Wella Logo.
They use the line art to portray blowing hair strands that make the eyes glide through the lines or hair strands to the logo name.
It is worth noting here that the designer purposely added two extra lines, and because of their proximity, the viewer groups them as hair, seeing it as a fuller picture.
If you wanted to create a larger image out of smaller images that all have individual weight, this would be a great way to do it – composting geometric shapes into images is a popular method of utilising this effect.
The continuation principle states that the audience will look for continuation in lines and shapes, and group them.
Jagged lines can create a sense of chaos, and smooth curves can create a sense of calm and peace.
In this way, you can use long lines that continue unbroken through your designs to evoke a peaceful emotional response in the viewer, or you can also do the opposite.
The principle that follows element connectedness maintains that humans will follow connections from one image to another to link them.
A great example of this is the PlayStation Logo, which (despite being in three separate parts) appears to us as interconnected letters lying on two different planes, i-e., vertical and horizontal.
The human mind’s ability to link these two is imperative for making this logo work.
When viewers see two elements visually connected, they immediately assume that those two elements are bonded, despite the objects being unaffiliated otherwise.
You can use this to join two things for the viewer.
Flow maps and other diagrams where different icons are linked by lines and arrows are a great example of this.
You can also create a sense of connectedness with a simple line – it’s just that easy.
This principle pertains to the innate human ability to perceive depth, even when there isn’t any.
Logos are often skewed to give them a perspective point, and as such, can effectively trick the eye into believing that they are, in fact, three dimensional.
This is due to the Figure/Ground effect, which states that when a smaller object is presented on a sizeable uniform background, we see that they are two objects, one of which is in front of the other, rather than a flat image.
This effect is apparent in the Sony Walkman logo.
But, beyond that, even images which don’t utilise a perspective point can appear 3D by stacking the images and using the tonal range to create depth.
The Crossref logo creates a ‘spiral’ effect by using this principle, rather than merely three rhomboids partially covering each other.
Even something as simple as the outline of a face can create a sense of depth – like the two faces/vase optical illusion.
Giving your designs two ‘versions’ can be a great way to add complexity to your designs without actually creating something very complicated.
Similarity and Invariance
This principle relies on the human ability to identify and group ‘like’ images or elements, despite their location or proximity.
This principle does not necessarily always work for a picture, however.
A famous example of this principle not having the desired effect is with the Museum of Contemporary Art in LA.
Their logo features three shapes, and one letter – a square, circle, triangle, and the letter C.
The shapes are supposed to spell ‘MOCA’ but the human mind groups the shapes first and the letter second, which undermines the effect they tried to create, confusing the viewer.
If you’re confident that viewers will be able to group like objects despite their arrangement, you’ll have more confidence to utilise space.
Designs that utilise words that appear with large areas of space between them are a great example of this.
We naturally will read them together because they’re similar in nature.
Multi Stability is the strange ability that humans have to perceive two images at once based on incomplete data.
It’s similar to those optical illusions that ask whether you see two faces or a vase, or a rabbit or a duck.
Likewise, the Autumn Leaves logo utilises this principle with its leaf icon, which also shows off a leafless autumn tree in its midrib.
Flowing the principle, the NBC logo has brightly coloured segments set in a circular shape.
But, this is dual-pronged in that as well as looking like the feathers of a peacock (whose head you can see cut from the centre), they also look like rays of sunshine as the sun rises over their morning show.
To utilise this technique, the designer needs to subvert the way that things look in such a way for them to imitate something else, without losing their essence.
Look at a single design and ask how the elements could be transformed into something else to add a layer of meaning to it.
Despite being very perceptive creatures, humans do like everything in neat little boxes.
Things that are just off centre or misaligned will irk us to no end.
So, it’s no surprise then that symmetry is something that we like, as well as centralisation.
When things line up neatly, and we can draw a line through them, we find it very visually pleasing.
It’s like those videos online that give you ‘satisfaction’, but all they are is things fitting perfectly into other things.
Gestalt’s Principle of symmetry is very similar to that.
When it comes to designing a logo, we can use a balance to create patterns that we find enjoyable to look at.
Both the BP and Rare Disease Day logos utilise symmetry to create interesting and aesthetic logos.
Psychology and Design are two separate yet intertwined worlds.
While each can and does exist without the other, they share so many elements and traits that it’s hard to ignore the existence of the other.
Using Gestalt’s Principles may seem like a tall order at first, but if you look back at your previous design work, you’ll no doubt have used some of them without meaning to.
By using these principles consciously into your future work can benefit both, you and your clients.
And, when you know how to best use the psychological principles, you can please your viewers, catch their eye, and sparks interest.