People love order. We love to make sense of the world around us.
The human mind’s affinity for making sense of the objects it sees can be explained in a theory called Gestalt psychology. Gestalt psychology, also referred to gestaltism, is a set of laws that accounts for how we perceive or intuit patterns and conclusions from the things we see.
These laws can help designers produce better designs. For instance:
- Gestalt laws can help us achieve better visual hierarchy
- Gestalt laws can aid us in conceptualizing good symmetry in our designs
- Gestalt laws can improve our hyperlink designs
- Gestalt laws can even help us teach web design to students
In this guide, we will talk about how to apply the principles of Gestalt to create better charts, graphs, and data visualization graphics.
For broader implementation tips of Gestalt laws, please read Gestalt Principles Applied in Design.
Gestalt laws originate from the field of psychology. Today, however, this set of laws finds relevance in a multitude of disciplines and industries like design, linguistics, musicology, architecture, visual communication, and more.
These laws provide us a framework for explaining how human perception works.
Understanding and applying these laws within the scope of charting and data visualization can help our users identify patterns that matter, quickly and efficiently.
None of the Gestalt laws work in isolation, and in any given scenario, you can find the interplay of two or more of these laws.
Let us cover some of the Gestalt laws that are relevant to enhancing data visualization graphics.
To sum up the lessons we can derive from these Gestalt laws:
- Law of Prägnanz: Keep it simple. Arrange data logically wherever possible.
- Law of Continuity: Arrange objects in a line to facilitate grouping and comparison.
- Law of Similarity: Use similar characteristics (color, size, shape, etc.) to establish relationships and to encourage groupings of objects.
- Law of Focal Point: Use distinctive characteristics (like a different color or a different shape) to highlight and create focal points.
- Law of Proximity: Know what your chart’s information priority is, and then create groupings through proximity to support that priority.
- Law of Isomorphic Correspondence: Keep in mind your user and their preconceived notions and experiences. Stick to well-established conventions and best practices.
- Law of Figure/Ground: Ensure there is enough contrast between your foreground and background so that charts and graphs are more legible.
- Law of Common Fate: Use direction and/or movement to establish or negate relationships.
The title of my post should have been "Break the Gestalt Laws, go directly to the Data Visualization jail, do not..." Anyway, great write up, advice and guidance...