Gestalt's Law of Continuation


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The law of continuation 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 continuation rests on the principle, again assumed by Gestalt psychologists, that the brain does not prefer sudden or unusual changes in the movement of a line. In other words, the brain seeks as much as possible a smooth continuation of a line. "

Our brains try to organize information and make meaningful order from what we see. We have an innate need to create order in our lives (even though we are capable of creating disorder). Interior designers and graphic designers organize objects and information for aesthetic appeal with the law of continuation in mind. Actually, all of us, whether intuitively or consciously, organize objects and information on a daily basis. You might wonder, what does this have to do with the law of continuation?

When graphic designers are laying out advertisements, posters, or even business cards, they lay out the information and graphics in such a way that readers follow the lines of the layout. The goal is to create visual organization to help the reader progress through the information in a predictable way. This gives readers a sense of ease as they digest the information in a positive way. When professional musicians organize their musical expressions without breaking the rhythm, they too, conform to the law of continuation.

Continuing, recurring, and developing patterns not only occur musically, but law of continuation occurs all around us. The clock ticks, ticks, and ticks without end. The coastal waves rise and fall without let up. When it rains or snows, the fall of the droplets or snowflakes predictably spiral downward. As you can imagine, the law of continuation can be seen in a candid photograph when a person or a group of people are walking (rhythmically) together in the same direction. Not only this, but if we see trees in an orchard, we quickly notice the lines or a grid of lines. This too, describes what the law of continuation is. Therefore, when we see identical objects such as trees or houses, we organize the objects as visual lines―even though the lines are curved or break.

With the law of continuation, we know and assume the continuation and wholeness of objects even though we can’t see all of it. We realize that things overlap and diffuse with distance. We know it’s there even though we can’t see it. We know the sound of the ocean continues even though we’re not there to actually hear it or smell it. This too, is the law of continuation.

No doubt about it, we have an innate desire to organize our world. In knowing and understanding this concept, we consciously know how to improve our aesthetic world whether it is our personal appearance, living space, yards, designs, music, and presentations. The law of continuation is how we visually organize our thoughts, surroundings, and all artistic endeavors. (revised 2/15/2006)

Debbie Jensen, Graphic Designer and Photographer


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