Gestalt and Graphic Design: an exploration of the humanistic and therapeutic effects of visual organisation

Julia Moszkowicz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

384 Downloads (Pure)


This paper argue that there is a strong and undeniable link between gestalt psychology and the teaching of art and design in the early part of the twentieth century, specifically the work of Gyorgy Kepes in the Language of Vision. It maintains that gestalt is a complex discipline with diverse philosophical, scientific and social orientations. Gestalt psychology emerges at an exciting historical moment, when a diverse range of voices, interests and disciplines collide. The work of Gyorgy Kepes can be usefully re-read in the context of this collision, whereby gestalt can take many turns: scientific, humanistic, mechanistic and therapeutic. The diverse individuals, institutions and ideas - discussed under the nomenclature of gestalt - are linked by a shared interest in experiments with perception and making direct observations from human experience. In spite of these connections, however, gestalt has been consistently characterised - within the field of graphic design history and theory - as a unitary science with abstract and unchanging laws. This paper demonstrates that such a reading of gestalt is grossly oversimplified; it is an interpretation that is predicated on the practice of taking gestalt theory out of its original (and ongoing) contexts. As Roy Behrens and Mitchell G. Ash have shown, gestalt is a populated and variegated theory, one that has humanistic, as well as experimental aspects. This paper adds to this reappraisal of gestalt by re-visiting and re-reading the texts of its early pioneers, specifically those by Max Wertheimer and Kurt Koffka. Their work demonstrates a strong interest in social, historical and therapeutic relations, in a way that overturns the dominant reading of gestalt as an ?autonomous? scientific theory. As the work of Gyorgy Kepes further reveals, Gestalt is about people (not just forms) and human tendencies (not just spontaneous brain functions), if only it were reinterpreted in this way.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)56-67
Number of pages12
JournalDesign Issues
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2011
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'Gestalt and Graphic Design: an exploration of the humanistic and therapeutic effects of visual organisation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this