People will perceive and interpret ambiguous or complex images as the simplest form possible, because it is the interpretation that requires the least cognitive effort of us.


  1. The human eye likes to find simplicity and order in complex shapes because it prevents us from becoming overwhelmed with information.
  2. Research confirms that people are better able to visually process and remember simple figures than complex figures.
  3. The human eye simplifies complex shapes by transforming them into a single, unified shape.


In 1910, psychologist Max Wertheimer had an insight when he observed a series of lights flashing on and off at a railroad crossing. It was similar to how the lights encircling a movie theater marquee flash on and off. To the observer, it appears as if a single light moves around the marquee, traveling from bulb to bulb, when in reality it’s a series of bulbs turning on and off and the lights don’t move it all. This observation led to a set of descriptive principles about how we visually perceive objects. These principles sit at the heart of nearly everything we do graphically as designers.


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