closure_a.gifClosure is a visual design strategy. When the brain processes an incomplete shape, it fills in the missing information to create a whole. Thus, an image that is missing pieces will then appear complete. Closure is performed by the brain compulsively, taking place below our own consciousness.

Essentially, the brain is creating order out of chaos by applying the patterns it has already learned. This may be the remnant of a survival instinct. The brain is using closure in completing the form of the predator from incomplete information. The organism maintains awareness of its environment and survives.

This principle also works for written information. Consider the example below:

Aoccrdig to a rscheearch at Cmbrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

As the researcher points out, this is an old internet meme, and an easy one. The process becomes harder when one is asked to decipher longer words, or words that have several possible meanings. However, these are the exceptions and not the rule. There are more difficult visual examples as well, as seen in the figure below:

Image above: Note the four lines. Though these are differently sized, a pattern of formation is shown in their arrangement. Viewers would establish closure by connecting these four lines mentally to create a triangle.

Gestalt Theory

Closure is a subcomponent of gestalt theory. The German word gestalt translates as "unified whole." Gestalt theory originates from 1920s German psychology, and was a reaction to the prevailing theory of the time, atomism. Atomists believed that the nature of things was absolute, and that it was not dependent on context. Gestaltists posited the opposite; context was critical in determining content and subject.


The Four Components of Gestalt Theory:
  • Similarity - Repeating or similar objects are perceived as part of a whole
  • Anomaly - When similarity is used, an object that is extremely dissimilar to the others is emphasized
  • Continuation - The eye is encouraged to move through one object and into another
  • Closure - The brain fills in missing information to form a complete whole

Image below: Unconnected blotches of white are carefully arranged against a black background to create the image of a cat.


Closure In Graphic Design

We have now learned what closure is, but why is it important? What is gained by using the closure principle in visual art and graphic design?
Simply put, it engages the viewer. A person looking at an image that utilizes closure is actively involved in processing it, whether they are aware of this or not. In this fashion, a connection is formed. An engaged, connected viewer is an interested viewer.

Image below: IBM's company logo applies closure. Viewers discern the letters 'I', 'B', and 'M' even though what is really displayed are lines of different lengths layered above each other.



Image above: Closure is shown in this series of circles. As we progress from circle to circle from left to right, units of each circle are removed further than the previous one. Our mental perception of these almost "fading" circles still remains identifiable until more is missing than the previous shape.