Gestalt Principle of Similarity: Understanding What it Means and How to Use It

The Gestalt Principles are specific theories or laws that relate to human perception. Developed by German psychologists in the 1920s, these principles were created to show how we interpret and process the complex stimuli around us, group similar elements, simplify complicated images and recognize patterns. Basically, these theories helped explain how our minds work when we observe the world.

As a graphic designer, these Gestalt Principles carry significant importance, and in this article, we will help explain why by introducing you to the Gestalt Principle of Similarity. We hope that with the below information, you not only understand what this Gestalt principle means but how to use it to create enticing and memorable designs.

What Does Similarity Mean in Graphic Design?

The Gestalt Principle of Similarity states that when items share visual characteristics, they are perceived as more related than objects that are dissimilar. This is often due to the fact that our human eyes tend to perceive similar elements in a picture, image, or design as a complete shape or group, even if these elements are incomplete. This is because the brain tries to create a link between similar elements, and our eyes naturally fill in any missing gaps.

When it comes to graphic design, the Gestalt Principle of Similarity plays a considerable role. Designers often use this principle to indicate which elements are related and share the same function.

How to use Similarity in Graphic Design

When it comes to the principle of Similarity, items do not need to be identical to be grouped together. Rather, as long as they share at least one visible characteristic or trait such as shape, size, or color, they will be perceived as being similar and thought to be in the same group. Let's take a look at how this works:

  • The Color: When objects share a color, it often indicates that items are related and share similar functions. In general, same-colored objects tend to stand out more prominently than other traits, such as size or shape. As a result, similar colors can help unite different types of objects or elements and convey they are related.
  • The Shape: Shapes can also be used to indicate a grouping. For instance, when elements share a shape, it can be assumed that these elements are the same—even causing viewers to often overlook the accompanying text within the figure, as they already believe that the element will be the same as the others.
  • The Size: Typically, size is used to indicate a relationship. Meaning that if an object is sized similarly to other items, the object will be perceived as being related and sharing the same level of importance. Usually, size is used to connect elements that share similar attributes and create a visual hierarchy. This allows viewers to quickly scan the page and instantly see and understand the different groupings.


Even though shape, color, and size are the most common ways to incorporate the Gestalt Principle of Similarity into a design, they are not the only way. In fact, the more you can grasp this Gestalt Principle, the more aware you will be that you can incorporate other visual traits to show similarity. For instance, font size can be used to show that pieces of text are related, and orientation can also be incorporated to indicate that elements belong in the same group and have the same function.

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