The Law of Common Region | Best Web Design

The Law of Common Region

design principles

We have a strong tendency to perceive items as grouped when they are within the same clearly delineated region of space.

When visual elements are surrounded by a clear boundary, we view all items within this area as belonging to and forming a group distinct from all other surrounding elements. As you can see from the image above, just by adding a black border around three of the coloured dots we view them as distinct from the dots on the outside.

There are innumerable examples of borders being used to give the appearance of grouping, but an example common to us all is in the use of boundaries to distinguish different groups of buttons according to function on many remote controls.

The perceptual bias to see items as grouped when they share a clearly delineated body of space is referred to as the ‘Law of Common Region’, which was first described as a principle of perceptual organisation by Stephen Palmer, Professor of psychology at the University of California, in 1992.

The law of common region is an important feature of human perception, as it allows us to immediately detect groups without having to account for all of the visual elements contained within a scene or display individually.

The process of distinguishing items belonging to one group from all others would be a significantly more time-consuming process, and without the law of common regions we could not draw accurate, yet immediate conclusions from the visual information available to us.

Therefore, the law of common region serves a number of purposes: a simple border or boundary can speed up the process of extracting information from a scene or display, we are able to direct our attention to specific items, without having to scan all visual elements, disparate items become more meaningful, and we are less likely to confuse items that do not share a meaningful relationship.

July 30, 2019

Design principles: Gestalt Psychology

Recognition of meaningful items, objects or any other visual element does not occur through a process of identifying and piecing together composite parts. […]