Gestalt: Law of Proximity


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The law of proximity is one of four visual perception laws as theorized by gestalt psychologists. Paul Martin Lester, the author of Visual Communication, an expert in the field wrote: “The law of proximity states that the brain more closely associates objects close to each other than it does [when] two objects are far apart. "

We love to see people and things grouped together. Groupings and togetherness appeal to our inclination of wanting things to be neat and organized. Artistically speaking, by grouping people and things together, we are not only conforming to the law of proximity, but we are making room for other interesting information to be added to a layout that wouldn't fit otherwise.

There are other aspects to the law of proximity too. For instance, when we see two people next to each other in a photograph, we look to see what their relationship is or how they are communicating with each other. When birds are flying, we love to see how they group and fly in a *V* form together. At social gatherings, people tend to group together (even if there is plenty of space to spread out). Then again, we like to see groupings of the same species of plants in landscapes and find this to be visually pleasing.

In knowing about the law of proximity, designers, photographers, and artists are better able to create interesting, memorable images. When the law of proximity is used, viewers are more apt to take notice and interest in the visual messages being conveyed, because they are looking for underlying messages within the images and responding to them. The law of proximity somewhat overlaps with harmony. Harmony is “the pleasing interaction or appropriate combination of the elements in a whole" as described by Tim McCreight, the author of Design Language. When an image is in harmony, it is pleasing to us because the elements or objects are supporting and complementing each other. We view this as positive energy. This type of image gives us closure and peace void of anxiety. It is no wonder why most people prefer harmonious artwork in home decor.

The law of proximity is another way humans organize their world. Look in the produce section of a supermarket and notice how this law takes on practical application. Visual clusters of stars are beautiful to view in the same way as seen with repetitive patterns and textures. At home, we have a place to stack our dishes and another place to hang our clothes. The law of proximity indicates that humans prefer to see group’s of similar objects together. This explains why patterned material and grid-like designs are visually appealing. (revised 2/15/2006)

Debbie Jensen, Graphic Designer and Photographer


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