Gestalt Theory in Visual Screen Design - A New Look at an Old Subject

Chang, D., Dooley, L. and Tuovinen, J.E.

    Although often presented as a single basis for educational visual screen design, Gestalt theory is not a single small set of visual principles uniformly applied by all designers. In fact, it appears that instructional visual design literature often deals with only a small set of Gestalt laws. In this project Gestalt literature was consulted to distil the most relevant Gestalt laws for educational visual screen design. Eleven laws were identified. They deal with balance/symmetry, continuation, closure, figure-ground, focal point, isomorphic correspondence, prŠgnanz, proximity, similarity, simplicity, and unity/harmony. To test the usefulness of these laws in visual screen design they were applied to the redesign of an instructional multimedia application, 'WoundCare', designed to teach nursing students wound management. The basic text-based screens in the original WoundCare application were replaced with graphical user interface screens, that were designed according to these principles. The new screen designs were then evaluated by asking students and others to compare the designs. The viewers were also asked to rate directly the value of using the eleven Gestalt design principles in the redesign, both for improving the product's appearance and improving its value for learning. The evaluation results were overwhelmingly positive. Both the new design and the value of applying the eleven Gestalt laws to improve learning were strongly supported by the students' opinions. However, some differences in the value of applying particular Gestalt laws to the interface design were identified and this forms a useful direction for future research.
Cite as: Chang, D., Dooley, L. and Tuovinen, J.E. (2002). Gestalt Theory in Visual Screen Design - A New Look at an Old Subject. In Proc. WCCE2001 Australian Topics: Selected Papers from the Seventh World Conference on Computers in Education, Copenhagen, Denmark. CRPIT, 8. McDougall, A., Murnane, J. and Chambers, D., Eds. ACS. 5-12.
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