Figure-Ground Relationship, Good Continuation, and Highlighting

By Group Touch: Sharon, Hilda, Kenny, Prisilla, and Amir

Figure-Ground Relationship

The figure-ground relationship is one of several Gestalt principles of perception. Human perception separates stimuli into either figures (objects of focus) or ground (the rest of the perceptual field, an undifferentiated background). This principle is applicable across different media such as photographs and auditory stimuli.

A stable figure-ground relationship, with clear perception of the figure and ground, is more attractive, memorable and reduces perceptual confusion. An unstable relationship with ambiguous figure and ground can result in different interpretations of elements.

The optical illusion relies on unstable figure-ground relationship, causing the viewer to perceive both a man playing the saxophone and a woman’s face.

With the logo, figure-ground relationship changes as the eye perceives the window shade and the silhouette of a face.


Good Continuation

This is another one of Gestalt’s principles of perceptions. Aligned elements (such as in a line or curve) tend to be perceived as a single group and being more related than unaligned elements. When sections of a line or shape are hidden from view, good continuation leads the eye to continue along the visible segments. Elements can still be perceived as a group with minimal disruption of the line or shape.

Another optical illusion: Human perception assumes the two sticks continue in an established direction (i.e. forming an X and intersecting each other), due to the habit of applying the principle continuation on objects we view.



Highlighting is a technique used to bring attention to an area of text or image. It is recommended that no more than 10% of a design is to be highlighted, otherwise reducing the effectiveness of highlighting certain elements. Consider also how much disruption a highlighting technique can add to the overall design. Too much noise can compromise the legibility of the text or graphic. There are many methods of highlighting text, including the use of different font weights/typefaces and colour.

(Click to enlarge)

The use of highlighting in this infographic conveys the most important points to its viewers. Keywords are bolded in the text and a website link is coloured in blue. Graphical elements are visually highlighted with contrasting colours (#5 in particular uses bright colours against grey tones).



Universal Principles of Design, William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, Jill Butler.