Revealing the Essence: Understanding the Gestalt Principle of Figure-Ground Relationship

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Users perceive interface design elements that differentiate the foreground (figure) from the background (ground) as something to focus on or interact with.

Our ongoing expedition into the realm of Gestalt design principles continues with an exploration of the figure-ground relationship – a cornerstone of visual perception. In this article, we will delve into the essence of this principle, its significance in shaping User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) design, and its role in elevating the impact of visual compositions. Let’s dive into the depths of design perception and uncover the intrigue of the figure-ground relationship.

Michael Holding

Creative Director, Pod Creative

Interplay: The Core of Figure-Ground Relationship

The figure-ground relationship, a fundamental concept within Gestalt theory, revolves around the contrast between foreground (figure) and background (ground) elements. Consider it as the art of defining visual forms against a backdrop, akin to viewing a sculpture against the canvas of a gallery wall.

Directing Focus in User Experience (UX) Design

In the context of User Experience (UX) design, the figure-ground relationship assumes a pivotal role in steering user attention and understanding. By strategically employing this principle, designers can emphasize crucial elements while maintaining clarity amidst design complexity.

Picture a travel app where the principle of figure-ground relationship shines. Differentiating between interactive buttons (figure) and textual information (ground) through varying hues or contrasts ensures that users promptly recognize points of interaction. This fosters a smooth navigation experience, as users are intuitively guided toward actionable elements, thereby enhancing their overall engagement.

Creating Depth in User Interface (UI) Design

The figure-ground relationship is equally influential in User Interface (UI) design, where its application crafts a visual hierarchy with depth. This illusion of depth is the foundation of the Z-axis in UI design, introducing realism reminiscent of the physical world.

Consider a dashboard interface displaying real-time financial data. By strategically contrasting the foreground figures (data visuals) against the background (dashboard), designers establish a layered effect. This effect imparts a sense of depth, enabling users to perceive the data as residing in distinct layers, enhancing both aesthetics and understanding.

Tangible Instances of the Figure-Ground Relationship

  1. Navigational Clarity: The figure-ground relationship is evident in website navigation menus, where icons or links (figure) stand out against a contrasting background (ground), ensuring easy navigation for users.
  2. Distinct Call-to-Action: E-commerce platforms utilize the principle to draw attention to call-to-action buttons (figure) such as ‘Buy Now’ or ‘Add to Cart’ against a neutral backdrop (ground), encouraging user interaction.
  3. Enhanced Reading Experience: In digital articles, text (figure) is set against a clean and readable background (ground), ensuring readability and minimizing visual clutter.
  4. Image Galleries: The figure-ground relationship aids image galleries, where images (figure) are showcased against neutral backgrounds (ground), allowing users to focus on the visual content.
  5. Iconic App Design: Mobile app icons exhibit the principle by featuring distinct icons (figure) against simple, complementary backgrounds (ground), facilitating immediate recognition.



As designers, embracing and applying the figure-ground relationship offers a potent tool to construct coherent and meaningful visual experiences. This principle enhances the hierarchy, aids navigation, and brings depth to both UX and UI design. By recognizing its potential, we can ensure that our designs communicate effectively and resonate with users, without overwhelming or confusing them.


  1. Visual Perception and UX Design: Source
  2. Design Principles for Effective UX and UI: Source
  3. Exploring Depth in UI Design: Source
  4. The Psychology of Visual Perception: Source

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