Gestalt Theory for UX Design: Principle of Proximity

Published On: April 25th, 2022Categories: SEO, Web Design1611 words8.2 min read
Gestalt theory

Photo by Ben Kolde on Unsplash

Article post by Travis Dillard

Gestalt theory is the study of how the human mind perceives patterns and shapes, and the effects of those perceptions on cognition and behaviour.

The Gestalt principles of proximity, similarity, and closure are fundamental to this theory and can be applied to many different fields beyond human-computer interaction design.

  • Proximity refers to the tendency of people to group things together that are close in some way.
  • Similarity refers to the tendency of people to group things with similar characteristics together.
  • Closure refers to the tendency of people to fill in gaps and understand incomplete information.

These principles can be especially useful in understanding how people perceive and respond to digital experiences.

What is the Gestalt Theory?

To fully understand the principles of gestalt psychology, it’s helpful to have at least a basic understanding of the underlying principles of human perception.

The Gestalt school of psychology was founded by Austrian psychiatrist, psychologist, and art historian Wilhelm Wundt in the late 19th century.

Gestalt theory is based on the idea that certain principles govern the way that the human mind processes information.

These principles are referred to as ‘Gestalts,’ and there are four main Gestalts that affect how we perceive and understand the world around us. They are Proximity, Similarity, Continuity, and Commonality.

The Gestalt theory of perception can help you understand why certain decisions are made when designing interfaces and provide you with a framework within which to make those decisions.

According to Gestalt psychologists, the human brain seeks to make sense of what it sees.

There are many little elements in a complicated structure, but it treats them as a single entity when the brain sees them all together. Instead of being drowned in the complexity of minor details, this helps it make more sense of the big picture.

Proximity is a Gestalt principle, but what exactly is it?

The Proximity Principle is a psychological theory based on the study of human cognition.

As a result of our brain’s wiring, anytime we see anything with a complex structure, we instinctively try to group its components to form a cohesive whole. This makes it easier for us to comprehend the object or picture.

According to the Focal Point Principle, a design’s focal point is critical to making it aesthetically appealing and easily scannable.

It is common practice to use Gestalt Principles to design user interfaces to better organize related features.

The Proximity Principle in Design

Gestalt Principle states that when there are numerous design aspects, people tend to use conscious or subconscious strategies to make meaning of the image by organizing everything into an orderly system.

For example, if two items are put next to each other, the human mind tends to think of them as being connected. This inclination has a long-term effect on the design of products.

Proximity Principle

Source: Pixabay

It has been discovered that proximity, rather than colour or shape, influences how items are organized. Even if the characteristics, forms, and colours of things put next to each other may appear unrelated, users intuitively believe they are.

This notion of proximity can greatly help designers in the perceptual structuring of many visual elements of different forms and colours so that they are more scannable and easily perceived by consumers.

Since the average person only spends a few seconds on a website or app before moving on to the next one, this is extremely helpful in today’s time.

Users will leave if your website does not have a strong emphasis on visual appeal, and the best UX design firms tap into it, emphasizing the visual more and more.

If you’re looking for a way to group things together, the Gestalt Principle, or the Similarity Law, is one of the most commonly used methods.

How Does Proximity Help UX Design?

For a website or app to be effective, it must deliver all of the relevant information to the user relatively easily and quickly.

Designers use The Principle of Proximity to develop web pages and apps that are easily scannable.

You can give content blocks to users, allowing them to get all of the essential information in a single location, by grouping items that are related or at least somewhat similar.

When objects are grouped, the brain can apprehend them more quickly. It’s also easier to distinguish between different items.

Why Is It Essential to Make Websites and Apps More Scannable?

The attention span of modern the modern human gets shorter with each year. That’s why web designers need to keep up with the pace, and present information promptly and readily.

If your site is scannable (meaning easy to read without much attention), chances are that the user will continue browsing your site for longer. If the information is scattered or too hard to read and understand, the user bounces off your site and goes to someone else’s.

For a closer look into Gestalt Principles, here are a few examples:

Gestalt Principles: Typography and Copy

Content in the user interface is a critical area where the Principle of Proximity shines. Visitors don’t read linearly when they’re scanning the text.

Headings, subheadings, highlighted text, and keywords are usually the first things they can do. They’ll read the finer details if they’re interested in learning more.

As a result, the language must be organized in a way that promotes both rapid visual perception and attractive appearances.

Here, the importance of negative space cannot be overstated. A piece of visual imagery, if overloaded with words, will become too much for the eyes to take.

Visual information can only be absorbed and processed if there is a sufficient amount of breathing room. If the design lacks negative space, the user may lose interest and dismiss it.

When necessary, white space should be used to organize or group different design components. This technique should also be applied to text by dividing it into smaller portions.

The text should be written in short paragraphs with a single idea or in longer paragraphs with several ideas.

In blogs and technical articles, when a lot of information is being sent to the reader and visual perception is critical, this strategy is most commonly employed.

Using paragraphs as a way to arrange text helps readers understand that the lines that are next to each other relate to a single thought.

Additionally, it provides the reader with a much-needed breather and facilitates a more structured reading habit.

If you don’t break up long blocks of content, the reader will quickly lose interest.

As a result, these paragraphs can be complemented by illustrations to help the reader better understand the grouping principle.

By using the Gestalt Theory, an image of what the text describes can be displayed beside it so that the user has a point of reference to better comprehend what they are reading.

The Gestalt Principles: Content Blocks

Excellent use of the Principle of Proximity in UX is found in the arrangement of different content blocks in a single layout.

It is possible to organize the text blocks in such a manner that they appear to be linked to each other and make navigating considerably easier and faster. All types of digital communication, such as websites and applications, can benefit from such a structure.

For example, an eCommerce website that displays many items can organize the most relevant information about each product into a single block so that the customer doesn’t have to sift through many sections of the page to find it. There are several factors to consider, including the product’s colour, size, measurements, price, and availability.

After the most important information has been presented, a more extensive information block can be placed just below it, separating these two distinct but related bits of data.

Grouping and dividing content blocks, according to Gestalt Theory, improves the overall organization and readability of the information. Furthermore, it makes it easier to swiftly read through all of the available information.

Use of the Proximity Principle Is Key

The more impatient consumers become as technology advances, the quicker things get.

We’ve gone a long way from the days when a website would take a lot of time to load (think minutes in dial-up times), as opposed to now when it just takes a few seconds to load. As a result, the wait time for users has decreased equally quickly.

If a website takes more than a couple of seconds to load, it’s deemed to be excessively sluggish.

An app’s drop rate will be higher if it doesn’t make it simple for users to find their way around, and the same goes for a website without a scannable design. App and website development has grown more dependent on UI/UX design.

Creating fast and responsive websites gets a lot of attention, but so does making user interfaces that can be readily scanned.

To find information as quickly as possible, a user will turn to a website or app. This is when the Proximity Principle comes into play. Designers rely heavily on it to provide material that is easy to locate and read.


Understanding the Gestalt Theory is key to understanding the way people perceive and organize visual information, and in turn, how they behave.

Keep these principles in mind when designing user interfaces, to make your product as easy and intuitive as possible.

Author bio

Travis Dillard is a business consultant and an organizational psychologist based in Arlington, Texas. Passionate about marketing, social networks, and business in general. In his spare time, he writes a lot about new business strategies and digital marketing for Seo Turnover.

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