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Perceptual Organization: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:03 It's All About Perception
  • 0:40 What Is Perceptual…
  • 1:15 Why Care About…
  • 1:47 Example 1-Mathematical…
  • 2:41 Example 2-Geometric Shapes
  • 3:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Gloag
Perception governs meaning, as it influences how we and others see the world. In this lesson, we'll talk about perceptual organization and explore some examples of how our brains organize what we see.

It's All About Perception

Perception is tempered by point of view and experience. Because of this, no two people see things the same way if left to their own devices. One person might see a fancy sports car, and another might see an accident waiting to happen. One person might see a cell phone as a necessary communications device, and another might see the same device as a time waster. And while one person might see a random set of paint brush strokes, another might see a masterpiece. Our perception is governed by the information we have access to and the way we interpret it. That's why the area of perceptual organization is so important.

What Is Perceptual Organization?

Perceptual organization is the process of grouping visual elements together (organization) so that one can more readily determine the meaning of the visual as a whole (perception). If you think about the main screen of Microsoft Word, you have buttons along the top which represent commands or actions, text in the middle which is what you are writing, and messages along the bottom which indicate status. Similar items are grouped together, making it easy to understand their basic purpose. This idea holds true for all of the applications in the Microsoft Office suite and many Windows-based applications.

Why Care About Perceptual Organization?

We care about perceptual organization because it allows us to make rapid sense of the things we see. But more than that, we can use it to lead the viewer to the conclusion we desire in a fashion that suits our purpose. If you think about the Microsoft Word example again, commands are grouped together at the top. We know to look there if we want to execute some sort of command. Similarly, if we want to know why something didn't work, we look at the bottom for status information. The designer of the application led us to the appropriate conclusions through visual organization.

Example 1 - Mathematical Representations

Okay, let's look at a simple example. Say we have the following mathematical equation:

  • 10 + 1 x 6 - 4 / 2

It isn't immediately apparent that the answer is 14, because there is grouping and order implied through operator precedence that isn't readily apparent. Taking that into account, what is really meant is:

  • 10 + (1 x 6) - (4 / 2)
  • 10 + 6 - 2
  • 14

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