Usability heuristics: is Law of Proximity important?

The Law of Proximity states that objects that are close to each other tend to be grouped together. Proximity helps establish a connection between neighboring objects and facilitates a fast and efficient understating and organization of information.

Fidel Chaves
6 min read

Law of Proximity

The Law of Proximity originates from the principles of grouping established by Gestalt psychology. This German and Austrian school of psychology from the early 20th century postulated that organisms perceive entire patterns and configurations, not just individual components. “The whole is different than the sum of its parts”: is a usual quote that summarizes this thinking. The Law of Proximity states that objects that are close to each other tend to be grouped together. Proximity helps establish a relationship between neighboring objects and facilitates a fast and efficient understating and information organization.


Gestalt psychologists indicated that the human mind has a natural disposition to see patterns following some rules. Other categories associated with Proximity are Continuity, Connectedness, Closure, and Similarity.


The counterpart of this law states that elements placed apart are perceived as belonging to different groups. User interface design heavily relies on this principle as it’s often necessary to distinguish clear groups while interacting with the digital interface.


Proximity can even overrule competing patterns as similarity of shape or color. Placing related elements together and separating unrelated ones is a common practice seen in almost every product. This can be accomplished by the use of whitespace to unite or separate. Just open up your favorite website in a new tab. You will probably notice two distinct groupings at the top, one in each corner. Or a simple array on the center.


These distinctions set the difference between elements and how each one has a unique function and group. That can be a challenge on smaller screens, especially mobiles, as the available space is reduced. Designers have to work more with vertical spacing.


This spacing is even present in simpler designs: such as text. The logic behind titles, subtitles, and paragraph spacing, when done right, allows the reader to rapidly identify subjects and structure ideas. That’s why many books lose part of their logical architecture when transferred incorrectly from physical to digital.


On a related note, the way to separate content makes a big difference to the readability and perception of difficulty. A giant chunk or wall of text looks like a daunting monster. That may explain an extraordinary bounce rate on ill-organized articles. A clear separation and spacing can make the exact same text more readable and approachable.


Proximity is not always a blessing, as grouping an element with unrelated ones can actually hide it in plain sight. That is why you often see calls to action in big flashy buttons. You sometimes want an element to stand out and attract attention. Without proper hierarchization, the user might feel lost in a jungle of content. A spark of color or a distinct shape can break a rigid pattern to attract the eye.


Related to this case is the tunnel vision of many users, as they might lose an element that’s too far away from the main menus and links—a common way of discouraging users from accessing an option. I’m looking at you, cookies and ads. When you hide the skip button from your user, it’s time to rethink your design goals.


The last problem is the use of responsive design. As we’ve seen in another post, elements move in responsive layouts according to the screen used, which can negatively impact the design, notably when groupings change haphazardly. Using a smaller device guarantees less white space in some places while pushing elements apart in other cases.

Goals of usability testing

Following the user interface design and having grouped the elements as per the Law of Proximity, you might want to test how the site actually works. That is one of the goals of usability testing, as you will have real data of how your users interact with the site. This step is crucial because it provides feedback and tests your design.


You always have to consider that users are not in your head. A concept that often gets overlooked by designers and writers alike. We repeatedly inspect and read what we produced and don’t see that we fill the gaps with implicit insider information. Don’t worry. It’s a common thing, and, most of the time, we can take proper steps to overcome it.


That is why reading aloud and receiving feedback from people outside the working environment is necessary to achieve the goals of usability testing. You get a fresh look at your project. It allows you to pause, let ideas settle down, establish new connections, and identify overlooked mistakes.

UX writing: complementing Proximity

User experience writing, or UX writing, is the kind of prose that guides users through your product. It’s not the same as copywriting or technical writing, as it does not necessarily want to be persuasive or technical. The main goal of UX writing is to guide users; so they use and enjoy your product.


When building your site, you can’t overlook the fact that you will have to fill all those wireframes and prototypes with words. Calls to action, error pages, sign up forms, menu labels, terms and conditions, all the text contents on your site must have a human-first approach. It has nothing to do with SEO optimization, pleasing the algorithm gods, or being on good terms with Google’s crawler. It is about people.


UX writing considers the human on the other side of the screen, leading users to have a seamless experience. Even if it consists of short and to-the-point phrases, this writing is a valuable player on your site. If users don’t understand how to sign up, error pages don’t redirect the traffic, and menus contain absurd categories, no Law of Proximity will save your design. It will soon become the Law of Calamity.


At Awkbit, we thrive on UX design and always want to bring a pleasant experience to our site visitors. This is achieved through using many Gestalt principles, UX design, UX writing, and a seamless UI. We strive towards empathy, curiosity, and open-mindedness for a truly creative space. Are you in sync with us? Get in touch!

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