Design in Cheek
the user experience of fashion

how we can apply gestalt principles to improve fashion shows

We often see the Gestalt Principles come up when it comes to graphic communication and interface design. They help us understand the psychology behind how people visually perceive objects among chaos so we can make better assumptions at how users extract meaning. Not only can we use these principles for digital purposes, but we can also see how they are used in runway shows. This can help us think about where to leverage these principles to make a show more valuable.

I’m going to cover where five of these principles can be seen on the runway and how we can think about them to alter a show’s experience. The principles I’m going to cover are:

  • Similarity
  • Continuation
  • Closure
  • Proximity
  • Figure/Ground

Similarity

This principle is all about how we group things based on if they are similar. Whether it’s shape, color, or size, our minds group objects together if they have a form of commonality.

Similarity in the Zuhair Murad Haute Couture Spring Summer 2020 Show

The shift to red garments feels like a smaller collection within the whole one

Zuhair Murad’s beautiful collection uses similar motifs, fabric, and shapes throughout the collection to create a cohesive look and feel throughout. However, not only does he use those commonalities to make the collection as a whole feel like they belong together, he also uses shifts in color to create a sense of smaller collections within the one. At one point, the walking garments shift from all being black and gold to a scarlet red while maintaining the silhouettes and beading.

Leveraging similarity

We can begin thinking about where similarity can play a role in the show by asking ourselves how similarity increases the emotional affect. We can also begin looking for other places similarity can embedded be that wouldn’t include the actual garment. Would it have been more interesting if the Zuhair Murad’s red dresses came out in between other sections? What would it be like if the styling brought a sense of similarity instead of the clothing?

Continuation

This principle explains how our mind continues a pattern once it is introduced to us. We are able to link a series together by seeing visuals and movement, making a pattern we unconsciously expect and follow.

Continuation in the Prada Fall Winter 2020/2021 show

We can begin anticipating which doors will walk out of and their direction

The Prada show had models entering what looked like a lobby from various bright red doors. Coming from multiple directions at different times, it almost feels chaotic at first until you become familiarized with where they enter. Although they are crossing paths on the floor, we are able to become more familiar with where they are walking, allowing us to figure out where we should look and focus.

How continuation can be applied

Prada really plays with where our eyes are drawn by having models come from different directions. We can begin asking more questions about how that experience was better or the same as a show where everyone came from the same direction? Or begin thinking about where continuation can play vertically on a runway?

Proximity

Proximity covers how we group items together based on how close they are to one another. It works best when the objects have similar characteristics.

Proximity used in the Chanel Fall Winter 2020/2021 Show

Proximity helps highlight the button motif on the three garments

Chanel plays with proximity by sending models out in groups of three, two, or solo. By sending models out in small clusters, our brains are able to highlight how the garments hold similar and versatility within them much easier than if we were to see them farther apart.

How proximity can be applied

The idea of space and timing plays a huge role in a show; it controls when the audience is meant to shift their attention to what look. Clustering different looks together is a very clear way of playing with proximity, but we can begin thinking about what other items we can put closer and farther to the look to make something either more interesting or understandable. What if a group came out, and then slowly started parting off to become other groups?

Figure/Ground

Our brains are able to distinguish between a focal point (figure) and the background (ground). This covers the idea of perceiving negative space instead of the subject, or vice versa.

Figure/Ground in Chanel Fall Winter 2020/2021 Show

Using a white runway contrasts against colored clothing

Chanel also explicitly plays into the figure/ground space by making the runway mostly white to contrast against the models and clothing. It helps keep our attention on the clothes instead of anything else. Figure/ground can also be seen as the relationship between the clothes/model. We may be able to see a beautiful model, but we are primarily focused on the clothing.

How figure/ground can be applied

Finding where to play with figure/ground really starts with the question “What do we want them to focus on?” When we have that answer, we can start to ask what can be added to the background to highlight the focus, or even try to take it away. What would it look like if the background was the show?

Closure

Closure is about being able to see what is not there – our brains filling in the gaps for us. We are able to perceive objects as a whole, even when something is missing.

Closure at the end of Givenchy Haute Couture Spring Summer 2020 Show

Although there is space between the models, viewers know that it is part of one collection

The idea of closure can be stretched to encompass a whole show. Even though models may have huge spaces between their walks, we are able to perceive the concept that we are watching the whole collection even if we are only seeing it piece by piece.

How closure can be applied

Ending a show normally dictates the whole collection being showcased in a line, a mob, or another form of presentation to show how it looks altogether. But closure can become an interesting part of the show when we give our brains the space to do a bit of the work. What would it look like if <element A> was missing? What would our brains fill in? How would it fill it in?


The Gestalt Principles can help us think deeply about runway shows. When we begin asking ourselves how we can use them in non-digital visual experiences, they can become more interesting and creative for all involved.

*Cover image by Michael Lee on Unsplash. I do not own any of the other images used in this post. All are screenshots from their respective shows posted on FF Channel. Contact for removal.

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