The law of proximity is one of the most fascinating gestalt principles to me. It shows just how much our brains work at trying to make order out of chaos. To put it simply the law of proximity states that when objects appear close to one another they tend to be perceived as a group.
Take constellations for example. When we look at the night sky we look for stars that are close to one another and try to find some sort of meaning. Based on their proximity to one another we have clustered groups of stars and given them specific names and shapes such as The Big Dipper or Orion’s Belt. We have essentially created meaning out of randomness.
Look at the image of circles below. On the left side it appears that the circles are haphazardly placed in no particular order. On the right side, even though the same circles are used, it is clear to us that the shape of a triangle has been formed. Our minds have found a unity amongst the shapes based on their proximity to one another.
We take comfort in the fact that something has a purpose, even if we have to be creative in how we form that purpose. This natural process of the brain can be used to a designers advantage when creating logos.
Look at the Adidas logo below. The version on the left shows the various pieces of the logo randomly spread apart. Now look at the logo as a cohesive unit on the right. The same pieces are used on both the right and the left. The only difference is their proximity to one another. Although the Adidas logo may not create any specific form, our minds create an order and cohesiveness because of how close the shapes are to one another. We begin to notice how each shape relates to the other based on their proximity.
In order for the law of proximity to work effectively it must be noted that empty or “white” space must also be provided within a design. This gives objects a defined space in which to relate. Take the Sun Mircosystems logo for instance. With no white space given to the logo our mind picks up a pattern rather than a single instance of the logo as you can see below.
When a single instance of the logo is given enough empty space to breathe we can start to see how the proximity of the positive shapes relate to one another . With all the clutter taken away it is now easier to see how the “U” shape is used to create the “s”, “u”, and “n” in the word sun. This means the empty space around a logo is just as important as the logo itself.
It is worth noting the difference between the gestalt law of proximity and the law of closure. Both relate to the idea of how shapes relate to one another. However, the law of closure takes into account that to be successful the viewer must help “complete” the shape by filling in missing pieces of the design (as with the WWF logo). The law of proximity is not looking for the viewer to fill in any missing gaps, but rather assumes that all of the objects are considered a single group based on their nearness to one another. Here are a few examples of logos that use the law of proximity effectively.
The Best logo uses the proximity of each letter to easily show an increase in letter height.
The NYNEX would not be as effective if the “E” and the “X” were not so close to one another. Having each letter so close to the next helps the eyes transition from one set of white lines created in the “E” to the set placed inside the letter “X”, making it feel as though they are the same line.
The London Docklands Development Project uses the close placement of each element to create a complete picture, something that may be lost if the proximity of each element was placed further apart from one another.
The Gestalt law of proximity may be a little more subtle then the other laws, but when used correctly it can be just as helpful in creating logos that are effective and timeless.