This is a review of Kurt Koffka’s Principles of Gestalt Psychology, written in 1935 and re-published a bunch of times, including my 2014 edition.

Koffka was one of the three big players in the Berlin school of Gestalt psychology. In case you’re not familiar with it, the real brief run-down is that the Gestalt school really came into prominence when Max Wertheimer wrote a paper in 1912 on an idea called the phi phenomenon. This is how our brains interpret a set of static images as consistent movement, by filling in the gaps. Kurt Koffka, Kurt Lewin, and Wolfgang Koehler were three other influential Gestalt psychologists, and Koffka quite often mentions the work of Lewin and Koehler in his text.

The Gestalt school is all about using experimentation to understand how the mind works, and Principles of Gestalt Psychology was the culmination of approximately 20 years of persistent experimentation. I didn’t even try to keep track of the sheer number Koffka mentions, but given that this is a 680+ page book, I’d estimate that he brought up at least 80-90 separate experiments throughout the course of the work.

Here’s where I lay out my biases: I am not a psychologist by trade. By being experiment-heavy but not empiricist, I do like the way the Gestalt school did their business, and I think this has a much longer-lasting impact than many other schools of psychology. But when it comes down to it, I’m certainly not an expert on psychology, nor am I qualified at getting into the nuances of the field. But I will say that subsequent testing has generally been kind to Gestalt tenets, unlike a lot of the psychology industry.

So should you buy this book? If you’re looking for a quick list of visual principles derived from the Gestalt school, no. You do see a fair number of these in the first 200 or so pages, but then there’s a long discussion of traces (which is definitely the most controversial topic which came out of the Berlin school). But there are better works for laying out the visual principles, either as websites, slide decks, or full-length books. Despite this being a summation of the work of several psychologists, it’s not really a summary like these.

Finally, if you do want to grab a copy, you might find it at a library and you can also get your hands on it at


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