The law of Prägnanz comes from the Gestalt theory of psychology and sits at the heart of almost everything that designers do. Whether you’re creating websites for e-commerce, presentations for internal or external audiences, infographics, and charts for annual reports, understanding how people perceive and interpret your visual information is crucial.
Arounda team has been in product design for more than five years. We apply psychological laws from day to day in UX design for web and mobile apps and would like to share the knowledge with you. Today, let’s discuss the Gestalt rule of Pragnanz, both its theory and applications.
In order to understand the law of Prägnanz, it's essential to get a grasp on the branch of psychology that defines it. Gestalt psychology emerged in Austria and Germany in the early 20th century. It looks at human behavior and thinking patterns as an indivisible whole.
The first Gestalt psychologists Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Kohler, and Kurt Koffka stood opposite to the dominant view of elementalism, which stated that all complex abstract ideas are built from simple, elementary constituents. The alternative idea of Gestalt is beautifully expressed by Kurt Koffka: “The whole is other than the sum of its parts.”
In 1923, Max Wertheimer introduced the concept of Prägnanz during a discussion of the Gestalt theory. This principle has added a lot to the arts and advertisement fields. In fact, nearly everything we do graphically is based on the law of Pragnanz Gestalt. So let's jump straight into it.
The Gestalt Law of Prägnanz is the fundamental principle of Max Wertheimer’s theory. It says that people will perceive and interpret ambiguous or complex visuals in the simplest form possible. In other words, our brain is lazy. It will organize the incoming information in the most simple, regular, and symmetrical fashion, cutting sophisticated details and tricked-out patterns. We prefer things that look clear and ordered, requiring less effort to process and bringing fewer surprises.
This is how the law of Prägnanz works. Take a look at the contemporary World Wide Fund logo. Instead of seeing many curves and complex shapes, our brain perceives the symbolic image as a panda bear. This demonstrates how we reduce complex shapes to simple and familiar objects.
If you now pay attention to the first World Wide Fund logo from 1961 with a realistic panda drawn with lots of fine strokes and details, you might notice a slight eye tension. You may even feel irritated from all the additional complexity because the first image was much easier to perceive.
As you can see, humans prefer experiences and stimuli that are simple and orderly. And this is precisely what the law of Prägnanz says.
Gestalt theory offers various rules that designers follow regardless of the project. Gestalt principles Prägnanz remain one of the most valuable guidelines. But let’s list some other laws of perception that are essential for making clear and engaging visuals.
We combine parts to see a whole. In the modern WWF logo, you will notice the absence of lines on the back and the head of the panda. And still, our imagination adds the missing curves to form the complete figure.
Our brain looks for ways to avoid uncertainty. If one image carries several possible interpretations, we will switch back and forth to find a more comfortable option. When the choice is made, people stick with the perception and stop noticing alternatives.
We fill in the gaps based on the given information. The visual might not have all the nitty-gritty details, but we can still find the match with the objects in our memory and recognize it.
Symmetry and order give us a pleasant feeling of solidity, which people tend to seek. Therefore our mind tries to arrange objects symmetrically around the center, even if they aren’t placed like that.
Objects that stand close to each other are seen as related and a part of a group rather than as individual elements. The principle entails that similar products occupy one area and are separated with blank spaces from products of different types.
Let’s look at some practical examples of how to use the law of Prägnanz in design.
Our brain loves simplicity and reduces complex visuals to simple shapes, so avoid overloading them. But this conclusion can cause too many limitations, especially when we create visuals saturated with information, such as infographics, presentations, or charts. Therefore, we should be careful with the tendency to simplify designs.
The law of Prägnanz states that the human eye prefers order to chaos. Therefore, if we organize every page or frame in a way to drive attention to the most important parts of the information, the whole visual message will be perceived with ease. We can use font size, spacing, colors, shapes, and patterns to create a clear hierarchy of elements and ensure that the eye moves smoothly from the first priority items to the secondary information.
It is natural for Western culture to read from left to right and top to bottom, so don’t fight with this traditional cognitive pattern. Nevertheless, in some cases, like wheel infographics, this tip is hard to apply.
The Gestalt law of Prägnanz makes things easy not only for consumers. Designers can also save time and effort while working with it. In wireframes, all the parts of the design can be represented with symbolic lines and rectangles without unnecessary clutter. This helps us to focus on clear navigation, calls to action, page titles, etc.
The law of Prägnanz is also known as the Law of Simplicity or the Good Figure. It explains that the human mind will make the simplest possible interpretation of the visual stimuli and omit complex patterns which require more effort to process. Understanding how people perceive shapes helps to create more engaging and intuitive visuals for products and services.
As a design agency, Arounda deals with Gestalt rules like the law of Prägnanz in every project. It doesn’t matter whether we develop UI/UX for a Web 3 marketplace or a SaaS-based HR platform, the Gestalt principles serve as proven guides, they are universal and practical. So we are pretty confident in sharing this content and hope that it was helpful, especially for the newcomers.
If you need any further assistance in UI/UX design, brand identity, or product strategy, we are here for you!
Can you recall the logo of the Olympic Games? Most people would describe it as five overlapping circles, although the image is much more complicated and includes colors and interweaving curves. Following the Prägnanz rule, our mind simplifies the complex shape to more familiar objects like circles. The Olympic logo is one of the best law of Prägnanz examples.
As a part of Gestalt, the law of Prägnanz deals with the perception of shapes. It says that we don’t just look at every detail of a picture separately but see it as a greater whole. Moreover, we tend to simplify what we see to understand the main idea and omit additional cognitive strain.
Perceptual constancy is another way to explore the law of Prägnanz. Our perception is regular, and we respond to an object in the same way, although the physical stimuli may vary. For example, if we see a clock on the wall, our mind will recognize it as a circle shape regardless of the angles that we view from.
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