The Gestalt law of closure states that the human mind seeks to create coherence. If presented with a stimulus such as an image that contains missing elements, the mind will fill in those gaps to create the perception of a completed image.
When we see an image such as a circle, it consists of one continuous line that completes a 360° arc. This is how the image of a circle has been presented to us, repeatedly, over many years.
But then one day, we see an image in which the continuous line is broken-up into dashes:
Although the image is processed accurately in our sensory store, it is interpreted as being a complete circle.
This is the Gestalt principle of closure.
Gestalt Law of Closure
Closure Gestalt Examples
- In this logo for USA network, the designers use negative space to create the illusion of the letter “S.”
- This microwave oven interface shows how closure depicts control commands. It also shows a few examples where more line continuation might be helpful.
- This logo for the World Wildlife Fund demonstrates how lines don’t need to be present for the viewer to perceive the image accurately.
- No need for hands and feet for patrons to understand the meaning of these public restroom icons.
- The 2020 Tokyo Olympic sports pictograms are easily deciphered despite the lack of line continuity.
- Although robotic arms are quite complex, graphic designers usually incorporate the principle of closure to construct a symbol that is easy to interpret.
- The NBC Television logo is clearly a peacock, but there is not one single line that actually depicts a peacock’s image.
- There are a lot of missing elements in this dump truck icon, but yet the viewer will have no problem identifying what it is.
- The logo for IBM incorporates the principles of both closure and proximity.
- Professionals in graphic design rely on the principle of closure as well as several other Gestalt concepts in nearly every project.
What is Gestalt Theory?
Gestalt theory suggests several other principles that describe how the mind perceives stimuli. These principles identify how lots of individual elements are interpreted in the mind.
The well-known saying, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” illustrates the fundamental premise of Gestalt theory.
Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Kohler, and Kurt Koffka were among the first Gestalt theorists. At the time, structuralists such as Wilhelm Wundt believed that human behavior was best understood by examining sensations and the smallest unit of analysis as possible.
However, the Gestalt theorists considered cognitive processes that were more focused on a broader level of analysis.
The Gestalt Theory Principles
The five fundamental principles of Gestalt theory are:
- Proximity: Individual elements of a visual stimulus that are close together are perceived as being related.
- Continuity: Individual elements that are arranged in a manner in which they could be connected by a smooth and continuous line are followed by the eye and perceived as a whole.
- Similarity: Elements that are alike tend to be grouped together.
- Connectedness: Individual elements that are connected are perceived as more related than elements that are not connected.
- Closure: If an image contains missing parts, perceptual processes tend to fill in the gaps to complete the image and make it whole.
Related Concept: Sensory Convergence
Law of Closure: Case Studies and Research Basis
1. Scatterplots and the Principle Of Closure
Scatterplots are effective ways of presenting complex data in a visual manner that will be more easily understood than a text description. However, in the case of multi-dimensional data, the interpretation can still be challenging.
Researchers attempt to overcome this challenge by creating various visual cues such as applying different colors and shapes to help the viewer discern between classes and clusters.
Lu et al. (2019) decided to take this process one step further and “introduce a new means for visual encoding” called Winglets.
Winglets are two short lines that emerge from each data point to create a more complete visual image without altering the meaning of the data.
To put their innovation to the test, university students were presented with either regular scatterplots or scatterplots enhanced with Winglets.
The results revealed that “The addition of Winglets shortened the overall task completion time and reduced the overall error count” (p. 777).
“Winglets utilize the power of the Gestalt grouping principles, and specifically, the Gestalt principle of Closure” (p. 778).
2. Tourism Logos and Gestalt Principles
A logo is the face of the organization it represents. Sometimes the purpose of the organization can be discerned in the logo itself. Even though it looks like a simple illustration, there is often a great deal of thought that go into its creation.
This is true not only of business logos, but of some government departments as well.
To examine the role of Gestalt principles in the perception of tourism logos, Rodriguez et al. (2013) collected 154 logos from the tourism websites of 116 countries.
Two graduate students evaluated the logos in terms of: similarity, proximity, continuity, figure-ground, closure, and assimilation.
Then, 200 undergraduate students rated the logos in terms of how well it represented its country and if they would like to travel to that country one day.
“Logos high in Gestalt traits registered the highest intention to visit among the respondents” (p. 101).
“…logos high in Gestalt attributes indeed influenced the ease with which people can recognize the nations the logos stand for” (p. 102).
3. Software Accuracy and Closure
There is no doubt that software can process numbers and texts much faster than humans. This has been demonstrated ever since the handheld calculator became commonplace.
Add in today’s AI and it looks like humans will lose any processing race in speed and accuracy each and every time. Or, will we?
One advantage humans still have is in the processing of images. Although software is gaining ground, there are still many challenges. One of those challenges has to do with the Gestalt principle of closure.
Ehrensperger et al. (2019) presented a data set of over 50,000 images of the Kanizsa triangle to two computer programs (AlexNet and GoogLeNet). Half of the images were valid representations of the triangle and half were invalid.
Although the programs produced an extremely high number of errors and required a substantially long period of time, they did improve slightly.
As the authors conclude:
“Our findings suggest that perceiving objects by utilizing the principle of closure is very challenging for the applied network architectures but they appear to adapt to the effect of closure” (p. 296).
It’s just a matter of time.
The principle of closure can be applied to academics in several ways.
1. Simplicity in Graphic Design
If you ever take a course in graphic design, project management, product design, or human/computer interface, then the principle of closure can play a beneficial role.
For example, when designing instructions that include icons, simple images are sufficient.
Too much complexity can be distracting. So, the basic lesson here is that when creating an icon or other type of visual stimulus, it is not necessary to create something overly intricate.
In fact, sometimes an image that is a little sparse comes across as more artistic.
2. Less is More in Academic Writing
In a similar vein, one fundamental lesson to be learned from the principle of closure is that sometimes less is more. This lesson can be applied to other kinds of projects, such as writing papers or essays.
A lot of times students can get so immersed when writing an essay that they become obsessed with details. This can make understanding the essay an overwhelming chore for the reader.
For example, if writing a Personal Statement for a graduate school application, there is no need to go into excruciating detail about one project. Sometimes it’s more effective to paint a picture with broad strokes.
The principle of closure informs us that the human mind will apply coherence to images that lack completeness. Gaps in the continuity of lines or missing elements will automatically be filled-in.
This makes processing the meaning of cleverly designed logos easy for the viewer. In some situations, it is best to present an image that is not overly complex.
Although closure is usually all about filling in stimuli, research on graphs suggests that sometimes adding visual elements is beneficial. For example, adding Winglets to the data points of a complex scatterplot can improve interpretation.
Computer programs still have some challenges in processing visual images that contain missing visual elements, but they can be trained on large datasets and improve.
When working in graphic design or creating product instructions, keeping images simple is sometimes more effective. Understanding the value of simplicity can also be beneficial to non-visual projects, such as writing essays where too much detail can distract the reader from key points.
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