One of my favorites and possibly one the most essential aspects of Gestalt Theory is Proximity.
Proximity can be defined something like this:
“Objects that are closer together are perceived as more related than objects the are further apart.” Or, when elements are positioned close to one another they are perceived as part of a group rather than as individual elements.
Here’s a simple example of Proximity using typography:
In this example, because the letters are grouped close together (or in close Proximity with one another), the individual letter forms are not separately recognized. What we perceive is the word PROXIMITY.
P R O X I M I T Y
In this example, because the individual letter forms are spaced a greater distance apart, we now can perceive each of the individual letters. And then the word PROXIMITY.
This phenomenon also works with objects. If you want two objects to be perceived as one then place them closer together. If you want them to be perceived individually, then place them further apart.
If you have three or more objects, and you do not want all of them to be perceived as part of a group, then place some close together and the rest further apart.
That’s PROXIMITY. It’s that simple and it’s that difficult.
But, in my humble opinion, the understanding of this simple yet difficult principle is crucial to good design practice. For it allows the designer the opportunity to create a visual hierarchy of elements, thereby controlling how the viewer perceives their work.
On the flip side, if you don’t understand Proximity, your work will most likely create visual chaos, frustrate the viewer, and basically suck.