Gestalt, Continued

Three Definitions of Gestalt:

1. Etymology: German, literally, shape, form
Date: 1922
: a structure, configuration, or pattern of physical, biological, or psychological phenomena so integrated as to constitute a functional unit with properties not derivable by summation of its parts
(Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

2. n.
The school or theory in psychology holding that psychological, physiological, and behavioral phenomena are irreducible experiential configurations not derivable from a simple summation of perceptual elements such as sensation and response.

(Encyclopedia Britannica)

Gestalt is a general description for the concepts that make unity and variety possible in design. It is a German word that roughly translates as “whole” or “form.” Gestalt theory is involved with visual perception and the psychology of art among other things. It is concerned with the relationship between the parts and the whole of a composition.
(A designer named James T. Saw)

My example of the figure/ground principle of gestalt: turtles, or bell?

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Personal Aesthetic Statement

Although I generally try and mold/sculpt my style so that it fits the needs of my client, there are definitely things that appeal to me personally. I have tried to distance myself from liking one thing too much (because we must all kill our little darlings) but I have definitely noticed a few things that I subconsciously return to often. They are as follows:

Chunky sans-serif headliner fonts



Dentist-office style wall murals of birch trees


Hand-drawn patterns

White space

Pull quotes

Dividing bars


Sketches of burlesque ladies



Complicated geological maps

Vintage photos

Old wallpaper

High fashion





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Cultural Awareness in Design

Cultural awareness in design is more important now than ever before. Because of the internet, even something personal can be seen and misinterpreted across the globe. I participated in a design exercise at Seattle Central in which groups had to represent words with colors and patterns. My word was “taxi”. I thought I had hit the jackpot because everyone knows that taxis are yellow and are associated with black and white checkerboard patterns. Once everyone had finished, we had to go around and rate our classmates based on overall success. My solution for taxi was recognize immediately by almost everyone, but one student couldn’t wrap his head around why my design stood for taxi. Shinya Iwaki was from Japan, and apparently in Japan taxis are green. There was no way that I could have known this for a simple classroom exercise, but that just goes to show that cultural awareness and research are important when designing. Especially in a country that consists of people from across the globe.

An image that immediately comes to mind is that of the “do not enter” sign that is prevalent on U.S. streets and the “underground” sign seen so commonly in England. One is an index for a mass transit system, and the other is an index warning someone to stay out. Both are composed of a circle and a bar, and could be confused by someone who did not have a firm grasp on English or a child.

The color orange is often associated with vibrance, warmth, and happiness in the U.S. It may bring up images of construction workers, or oranges, but for the most part is a pretty neutral color in our culture. In Ireland, however, the color orange is associated with members of the Protestant religion, who frequently clash with the Roman Catholics in Ireland.

I came across an ad that was run in China (and promptly banned) that was intended to warn people about the dangers of smoking. The ad reads that one person dies every eight seconds from smoking, but the first and only thing people see when they see this ad is the twin towers. It is impossible that this effect was unintentional, and the purpose was to shock the viewer. This subject is much too touchy to ever recreate in advertisements, and the ad was banned.


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Original Icon, Index & Symbol

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Icons, Symbols, Indexes

Group: Jen Pearce, Anne Hornung, Jen Rogers.


This is an icon because it is a recognized visual representation of a gas pump. The pictorial representation is directly related to the concept.

Works for Icon since it is universally recognized as sign of Los Angeles and movie making.

The danger: electricity sign is an icon because the visuals are clearly demonstrating a universal warning to beware of electrical consequences.

This is an index because it is providing information for the viewer. In this case, the viewer would come to the conclusion that the escalator is to the right.


Works for index example because definitely shows meaning through illustration.

This duck crossing sign is an example of an index because it is informing the viewer to be aware of the potential presence of ducks and ducklings. It can be assumed that the driver should try and avoid them, even though it does not directly say so on the sign.


The swastika is a symbol because its visual form is not a logical, direct representation of what it stands for. The swastika has cultural significance and experience has taught people to associate it with racist German Nazis and WWII.

This works for symbol example as it does not have a direct logical connection to what it represents but has been learned as luck, Irish, St. Patricks Day, etc.


The rainbow is a symbol of gay pride. Rainbows have nothing to do with homosexuality, but the image has become associated with it.

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Interpenetration and Simultaneous Contrast

My group and I (Corinne, Monica) each provided one personal definition/image, and one actual definition/image for each concept.

A. Interpenetration
Official definition: The action of penetrating between or among.
My definition: When unrelated elements of an image come in contact with one another, they are interpenetrating.
Illustration explaining concept: a Jugendstil print with interpenetrating elements.

My concept-explaining illustration:

B. Simultaneous Contrast

Official definition: An involuntary response that occurs when the eye is not at rest, If the eye is stimulated by a single hue, any nearby neutral area appears to take on the hue of the missing complement.
My definition: When surrounded by a hue, a neutral object will take on the tint of the hue’s opposite on the color wheel.
Illustration explaining concept:
My concept-explaining illustration features a neutral-faced woman in front of a block of red and a block of green. The woman in front of the red has a greenish tint to her skin, and the woman on the green has a  rosy tint to her skin. Some makeup companies use this concept to market a green-tinted acne gel to help offset the redness that zits cause.

Albers, Joseph. (1975). The Interaction of color. New Haven, CN: Yale University Press.

Holtzschue, Linda. (2006). Understanding color. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Itten, Johannes. (1970). The Elements of color. Hoboken, NJ.: Wiley.

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Wendy Chisolm & Accessibility.

The KUOW podcast featuring Wendy Chisolm was surprisingly interesting and easy to follow. My learning style is more visual, so I often find it hard to pay attention to podcasts or retain information from them. One obvious accessibility disadvantage to this podcast was the fact that there was no transcribed version to read. And if there was a written version, it was in an inaccessible place. During the podcast, Wendy brings up the Seattle Metro Transit website as one of her main examples of inaccessibility. I wholeheartedly agree that the website is completely inaccessible, even to someone with no physical, hearing, or vision impairments. One would think that a transit website for a city that relies heavily on buses would be top-of-the-line, and one would be wrong. The website is hard to navigate by sight, and even harder to understand via screen reader. A much more appropriate website for the job, and one that I rely on heavily, is One Bus Away, a website built by a grad student at the University of Washington ( The website is simple, clean, and informative. It is accessible by phone (the Seattle Metro website is not), and would be easy for a screen reader to comprehend.

Wendy stated that one of three (but preferably all) things needed to happen in order for web content to become more accessible. One, technical accessibility needs to be automatically built in. Two, there needs to be a cultural shift in the way people consider people with disabilities. Finally, people with disabilities need to be included in the creation of web content. Being someone fortunate enough to have decent vision and hearing, I have no idea what it is like to have trouble accessing web content. When I was first learning web design I designed my pages with no consideration for the disabled. I ignored alt tags, relied on images, and focused on appearance rather than content. Once I had a web accessibility class, however, I began to realize that some of the websites I had once found boring were actually functional, and function was much more important that aesthetic pleasure. One of the tools that can be used to check web accessibility is the WAVE (Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool). Located at, the WAVE allows the user to upload an url or input html, and then tells them if the page is compliant with web accessibility standards. The free program also comes in a handy firefox toolbar, so there is no excuse for building inaccessible websites. I don’t personally know anyone who has a disability that would affect their ability to find information on the web, but it would be ignorant of me to design without them in mind. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are about 49.7 million people in America with disabilities. They have the same right to information and those without disabilities, yet they are systematically ignored.

Going back to the Seattle Metro example, one thing I have noticed is that bus stops themselves are inaccessible. The times for buses are located behind a plastic sheet, and would be impossible for a blind person to make any use of. Considering the fact that the Seattle Metro website is also challenging to navigate, I am amazed that vision-impaired Seattleites can get around at all on public transportation. I think that there should at least be a voice-activated phone system to guide people around bus schedules, as braille on every bus stop sign would be impractical due to constant changes in bus times and routes.

Web accessibility is something that needs to be considered heavily in the future, as it appears to have fallen off the radar since the 2000s began. Considering the amount of people in the United States that have disabilities, it is imperative that their needs be met, in order to support equality.

Ferris, Brian. (2010). One bus away. Retrieved from

United states department of labor. (2010). Retrieved from

WebAIM. (2010). Wave. Retrieved from

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