The Designer’s Guide to the Law of Prägnanz

Prototyping: From UX to Front End — Medium | Erkan Kerti

Fundamental principle of the Gestalt Theory

Assuming you already know that the laws of Gestalt help how humans sense visual information, I’m offering to tell about one of its principles, the fundamental one: Law of Prägnanz. In simple terms, this law tells us that people perceive complex things as simplistic forms in order to recognize the environment easily. This makes humans understand what they see as a whole rather than small pieces, or the sum of total parts.

Triangles, squares and rectangles, or a house? Photo by Hernan Lucio

Human mind recognizes the pieces as a whole to grasp reality clearly. Simpler form leads us to create a clear understanding of the whole.

“ The whole is other than the sum of the parts.”

These words belong to Kurt Koffka, one of the founders of Gestalt theory. (Max Wertheimer, Kurt Koffka Wolfgang Kohler, and Christian von Ehrenfels are the founders of the ideas behind Gestalt.) In this sentence, ‘the other’ represents the thing that is not actually there but comes out from the image as something more and different. The image you see is other(more, different) than the image perceived by the mind.

People have a tendency to see things as a whole, they glue different parts in order to make them whole. While they are doing things they have a tendency to reduce complexity to a simpler one.

Let’s explain it with an example. The famous image used to describe the perception of clarity/simplicity is an image of a dog formed by dots. Obviously, there is no dog when we want to see a complicated image. It’s like arbitrary dots are everywhere and they isn’t seem to have any meaning. When our brain eventually ends up finding the simpler image which is a dog with his nose on the ground, it’s impossible not to see dog again. Human mind grasp the simplistic form or an idea from the chaotic/complex sum of things.

Dots? No, It’s a dog.

Didn’t see the dog, let me provide another example. Below image has some ‘lines’ in it. Lines and spaces however what you see is different. You can easily see a cube that isn’t there. Like in the first image, our perceptual system connects the dots, close the gaps and perceive a cube. A Gestalt is formed out easily.Dog can also be seen from the complex dotted weird thing.

Tom Friedman

If we didn’t have this ability we would not be able to understand the wholeness of any object partially blocked by another object. This gives us the ability to understand and recognize objects while looking through a bush or a window, behind a thick curtain. Mind connects the unseen parts with the idea of wholeness, this creates a closure and humans complete the sections in order to create a simple and complete object.

If your UI is scattered, it is disruptive to see simple object

Wholeness beats the chaos. If your interfaces bring chaos to the table, users’ perception of the experience is disrupted. Mental model can easily fade away if you are not paying attention to the wholeness of the things in the UI when you want to compose one.

Mental model without gestalt is like a correct road for your destination that your navigation shows but not the fastest, safest and most beautiful one. It’s designer’s responsibility to provide better wholeness to achieve a good user experience. This is where experience and the design connected strongly. Design provides an experience that fits the psychological state that people need to experience when using your products. While building bridges between the human psychology and the experience that you want to deliver to your users, wholeness should be provided for a simplistic approach.

Design creates good experience if it uses human psychology

The experience you dealt with for your product should involve the human psychology at first side. The good gestalt will pave the road while experience is being delivered. The understanding law of prägnanz helps you to form the wholeness for your product. Making a meaningful whole for your user interface eliminates the chaotic placement of things. With using the other laws of Gestalt (similarity, proximity, continuity, closure, common fate,), making a whole which is more than the sum of its parts can create a Good gestalt. This will help to create bonds between the experience you seek from users and their psychology.


The Designer’s Guide to the Law of Prägnanz was originally published in Prototypr on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.