Gestalt theory: For simplifying visual perception

August 10, 2020 5:45 AM

Gestalt is based on the law of simplicity. It indicates that our mind perceives everything in its simplest form.

Logo gives a brand its identity, and therefore it requires a lot of creativity, imagination and astuteness in designing.

By Vidya Hattangadi

What is the connotation of the Gestalt theory? Gestalt psychology is a school of thought that believes all objects and scenes can be observed in their simplest forms. Sometimes referred to as the Law of Simplicity, the theory proposes that the entire insight of an object or a scene is more important than its individual parts. To put it simply, Gestalt psychology attempts to explore and unpack; think of how your mind automatically perceives the face of a person you know well. This is so fascinating even though the face is, no doubt, made up of the same core features as any other—such as nose, ears, eyes, lips, chin, etc. But what your mind does is—this is my dear friend, this is my wife, this is my son—making sense of the features as a whole.

Designers get stuck while designing a logo for enterprises and also during rebranding an existing one. Logo gives a brand its identity, and therefore it requires a lot of creativity, imagination and astuteness in designing. It is much more than picking nice colours and fonts. It takes a whole lot of imagination, forethought and a lengthy research process to design a logo. A designer needs to get into the approach, mission and philosophy of the company for which she is creating the logo for. Logos are launched in people’s minds; therefore, the colours, fonts, shape of the logo need to be inimitable because it should also suit the brand’s personality. People recognise brands by their logos, and thus these carry enduring value for consumers.

The word ‘gestalt’ is German for ‘shape’ or ‘form’, and it also means ‘creativity’. The Gestalt theory was developed in Germany as a reaction to behaviourism. It is a theory of mind and brain that proposes that the operational principle of the brain is holistic with self-organising tendencies. The Gestalt effect denotes the capability of our senses, particularly with respect to the visual recognition of figures and whole forms instead of just a collection of simple lines and curves.

Great designers understand the powerful role that psychology plays in visual perception. What happens when someone’s eye meets the design creation? How does the person’s mind react to the message of the logo or design? Understanding how a design is perceived and interpreted is a crucial asset that visual communicators must possess. We cannot possibly influence human perception with our designs if we don’t understand the driving forces behind them.

Rob Janoff, the designer who created the world-famous Apple company logo, has explained how he came up with the idea: he bought a whole bag of apples, placed them in a bowl, and spent time drawing them for a week, trying to break the image down into something simple. Taking a bite out of an apple was part of the experiment, and completely by coincidence he realised that the ‘bite’ sounded exactly the same as the computer term ‘byte’; a byte is a unit of memory size. Wow! What a coincidence and creativity that is … I call it brilliance.

How is Gestalt related to visual perception and design? Soon after it was introduced in psychology, Gestalt was applied to the field of visual perception by theorists like Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Köhler and Kurt Koffka. They are Gestalt psychologists. When we imagine the Earth, we get the image of a three-dimensional model of the globe. We cannot see all of the Earth at once, as it is so large. So, the globe helps us to see what the whole Earth looks like. The globe is better representation of the Earth as compared to a flat map.

Blank and non-meaningful space has long been a base of good design. Leaving white space around elements of a design is the first thing that usually comes to mind. But then there are designs that use that white space to deduce an element that isn’t actually there; for example, the arrow hidden between the E and X in the FedEx logo immediately comes to mind.

The iconic Coca-Cola logo has changed many times over the past 126 years in terms of design; however, you may be surprised to know that the brand’s world-famous font of script and wave has always looked exactly as it does now. In the world-famous logo of the Coca-Cola Company, in the space between the letters O and L, one can clearly see the Danish flag. The company has nonetheless used this as part of its marketing campaigns in the Scandinavian country.
Just for the sake of the history of this brand, when it was introduced in 1885, it was marketed as a health tonic to cure a range of ills, including headaches, low sex drive and addiction. Coke started out with coca, which is the extract of cocaine as a key ingredient, along with the kola nut. Hence it was named as Coca-Cola.

Gestalt is based on the law of simplicity. It indicates that our mind perceives everything in its simplest form.

I am sure many people like me must have wondered what the logo of Wikipedia means. Each piece bears a glyph (a character or a sign) symbolising the multilingualism of Wikipedia. As with the Latin letter W, these glyphs are in most cases the first glyph or glyphs of the name ‘Wikipedia’ rendered in that language. The empty space at the top represents the incomplete nature of the mission of Wikipedia; there are more articles and languages yet to be added. I find this logo most interesting. There are currently 301 language editions of Wikipedia. It is owned by the Wikimedia Foundation.

The author is a management thinker and blogger.

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