Applicable to more than just graphic design and desktop publishing, in the design field gestalt refers to the entire piece (brochure, Web page, business card, etc.) as a whole that is greater than its individual parts.
For example, a newsletter may consists of individual pages, individual articles and headlines, photos, captions, pull-quotes, table of contents, page numbers, specific fonts and colors, an underlying grid (or multiple grids) and any number of other individual elements and applied principles of design. Taken individually, some parts may stand alone while others have little meaning on their own. But taken all together, these parts add up to an entire newsletter with a specific look, feel, message, and purpose. That is the unified whole or gestalt of the newsletter.
Another example, fully-justified text alignment is often considered formal and less friendly than ragged right text alignment. However, that formality can be offset by the content, the choice of font, and other elements and principles of design applied to that text. Within context, the gestalt of a piece can be significantly different from just one aspect (its alignment). For this reason, classifying fonts, colors, alignment, balance and other parts of a design as formal, casual, business-like, child-friendly, feminine, or dynamic is only a guideline. When combined with everything else that makes up a brochure, an ad, a book, a greeting card, an editorial illustration, or a logo those individual attributes can change. The gestalt or whole of the piece may override its individual parts.
It's easy to see how some of the Gestalt Laws of Perceptual Organization (Psychology) can apply to graphic design and page layout:
- Law of Similarity and Law of Proximity can be seen in the use of the principle of proximity to group similar items or things that go together.
- Law of Continuity is one reason we want to avoid page arrangements that include tombstoning or bad gutter jumps.
- Law of Closure allows us to create logos and illustrations using negative space or use dotted lines or simple rules to separate and group items without completely boxing them in.
Other Areas of Gestalt Theory
"Gestalt therapy differs from other popular forms of therapy in numerous ways, including strong focuses on the here and now, the client-therapist relationship, and the client's inherent ability to change his perceptions and behaviors." About.com Phobias: Gestalt Therapy
"The German word Gestalt literally means "configuration" or "figure" and is used to refer to any general pattern which manifests characteristics different than are inherent in its parts. For example, a musical piece has a Gestalt because the tune and melodies are characteristics which it has, but which none of the individual notes have. Similarly, a sentence has a Gestalt because it has a characteristic of its meaning which none of the individual words or letters have. These characteristics of the whole are called emergent properties or supervenient properties." About.com Agnosticism/Atheism: Gestalt
"Gestalt psychology is a school of thought that looks at the human mind and behavior as a whole. Originating in the work of Max Wertheimer, Gestalt psychology formed partially as a response to the structuralism of Wilhelm Wundt. The development of this area of psychology was influenced by a number of thinkers, including Immanuel Kant, Ernst Mach and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe." About.com Psychology: What is Gestalt Psychology?