Understanding Web Design – What is Gestalt Continuity?

Recently we initiated a series of posts covering the theme of theoretical application of Gestalt psychology in web design. We’ve already described four principles: Symmetry, Similarity, Proximity and Common Fate. This article is dedicated to Continuity, the fifth principle of Gestalt classification.

Foreword

The Gestalt Continuity Law explains how our brain experiences visual line of elements that are grouped together. There is a tendency to perceive a line continuing its established direction. This principle is considered to be one of the most important among other five, because it has the vastest application in design. This principle is applied not only in web design but also in interior design, design of clothes, landscape gardening design, architecture etc. In architecture Continuity Law can be traced easily in all styles starting from the ancient Greek and up to the Postmodern and Art Deco.

Patterns with Continuity law applied may suggest the person who is looking at it, that the pattern “continues” even after the end of the physical pattern itself, i.e. our brain can trace the connecting lines between various elements of the design if there are none. This brain-function enables us to see some elements slightly different from what they are in reality, this is our “personal Photoshop” that fills in the picture with some elements, allowing us to see picture in the whole but not separate parts. Gestalt psychology tries to understand how people perceive the pattern instead of many separate parts.

Recent study showed that as we become older our brain functions gradually fade out and this changes our overall perceptions and ability to process visual information.

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The edge of any shape continues into the space and meets up with other shapes or the edges of other plane. This example illustrates that we are more apt to follow the direction of an established pattern rather than deviate from it. We perceive the figure as two crossed lines instead of 4 lines meeting at the center.

Continuity in the form of a line, an edge, or a direction from one form to another that creates a fluid connection among compositional parts.


This principle of organization presumes that there is a tendency to perceive a line as a continuation of its established direction. That is, we tend to continue contours when we perceive them to be heading in an implied direction. When two lines of objects intersect, the continuation of each line is apparent.

Continuity Creates Hierarchy

Once you’ve finished experimenting with your design features you should evaluate whether information you present can be easily perceived and understood. Try not to use too many different design instruments at once, as this can distract user from real information. Only add extra visual cues when necessary.

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The law of continuity says that items placed in a certain row or direction are seen as a group. In the following examples you can see the main menu items and vertical submenu items that are placed one under another are placed in column as well. The perception of grouped items is strengthened by the law of continuity. Simply by jumping the submenu items a few pixels to the right and placing them a little closer to one another we distinguish them as a subgroup.

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Our eyes are invited to follow something that guides you – this principle is applied in all medias especially in advertising. Without any arguing we usually let ourselves be guided by previous objects or recognitions. Following template visualize this principle:

Following the guy’s glance we will stuck our eyes upon the “bubble” with some additional information.

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These lines visualize the menu on the template, before we get to the menu button we run our eyes along the line.

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Follow the finger…and hit the “Like”.

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The lines above the “Design studio” changes into the elements of the menu.

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The man’s arm guides you to the “T-SHIRT online shop” link.

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The lines of the underground and the train make an effect of symmetrical lines going into the perspective.

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The Law of Continuity can be applied both to the design aspect and to the content aspect of elements. Eyes can easily and naturally follow elements that are arranged along a continuous line, those elements are therefore perceived as a unit. The elements that follow each other, either logically or visually, are perceived as unit as well.

When our designers produce templates, they place elements into the layout suchwise that user can easily guess that these elements can be considered as a group. These elements are easily traced and share a common direction line. Try to find “these lines” in your everyday experience and understand how they affect your perception.

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