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Gestalt: Law of Similarity

The law of similarity 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 similarity states that, given a choice by the brain, you will select the simplest and most stable form to concentrate on. This law stresses the importance of basic shapes in the form of squares, circles, and triangles.”

What does this mean? We tend to group similar shapes together and often times, we try to attach some type of meaning to them. For instance, if we see a row of small triangles, we tend to perceive them as a row or line. We are less inclined to regard them as separate triangles, but we are more inclined to view them as a line of triangles.

Another factor about the law of similarity has to do with what we identify first when viewing shapes and forms. We are prone to notice matching shapes, colors, and forms (as opposed to looking for what isn’t similar). Our human minds quickly identify patterns faster than the separate parts of the pattern. We like to look at how the pattern flows together. We love designs with repeating shapes, forms, colors, and textures.

The gestalt theory refers to how we see things in general. The gestalt laws refer to how we typically assimilate visual information particularly from the onset. This does not mean that we do this all the time and never wish to look at things more in depth either. However, understanding the gestalt laws are of benefit to graphic designers, because this knowledge teaches us to incorporate similarities in our layouts.

Another place where the law of similarity is at its peak is seen in retail stores. When retailers set up displays where the same product designs are repeated over and over, it looks really smart to us. In fact, sometimes the repeated patterns look grand! When consumers separate the product from the display and throw it into their carts, most often, the magic is gone!

Graphic designers are concerned with how information is received. Many of us receive visual information quickly and effortlessly as we gather information. If a graphic artist understands the law of similarity, they can anticipate what their viewers are noticing at a quick half-hearted glance. Graphic designers will anticipate how the product will look when grouped together in the store where the law of similarity is capitalized. This information can improve visual communication and save corporations millions of dollars on their advertising campaigns. (revised 2/15/2006)

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