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Proximity is the relative distance from elements in an interface (could be visual, sound, or haptic elements) or interaction (how close or far in space objects might be) . Visually putting elements closer to each and further form others allows you to group things to indicate that they go together. We can also think about how having a sound paired with an action creates a relationship in the user’s mind (it would be confusing if a sound didn’t occur simultaneously with the alert it was related to).

Outside of a screen we can think about our proximity in real environments. How close we are to the places like stores, which our devices can track. Or how close we are to other devices, like capturing things on bluetooth. This can re-interpret the data we’re shown to bring to attention things that might be more relevant to us.

In sound, this is referred to as distance.


  • Attributes of each commentator are grouped together.  (screenshot of the NPR article comment section, Dec 2014)

    Attributes of each commentator are grouped together. (screenshot of the NPR article comment section, Dec 2014)

    On comments sections an avatar, name, and comment might be grouped closer together to indicate who is talking.

  • Menu items are usually listed together, and similar sub elements are ‘nested.’
  • GoogleNow might show relevant attractions, like a museum, depending on your location.
  • Devices can detect whether they’re near to each other, think about bluetooth pairing, Near Field Technology (NFC), and even sharing the same WiFi.



Proximity is often used in conjunction with scale, weight, and color to show connection. For instance, a menu might appear all together in a in the same typography within a colored bar to distinguish it from the rest of a website’s content.

Proximity in environmental spaces also more literally orients you in the physical work to other points of interest or devices.


Proximity indicators in environmental spaces, similar to presence, might gives users a sense of relationship to each other—how far or close they are. Apps like Swarm (formerly FourSquare) work to check-in to locations with the proposed motivation to let you know where your friends are, have been, and if they’re near you.


On a basic level, proximity causes us to create associations with elements that share a certain area. Whether sensed (visually) or in the literal environment. This might cause us to treat things as more or less important. Think, for instance, when you’re using maps you can see how close restaurants are to your current location. You are then more likely to go to that location.


Environmental proximity, especially when using a maps, creates a imagined sense of relationships. When looking at a map we might get a real sense of how long it takes us to get somewhere because it’s reducing all of the real elements like traffic and construction to give us an ideal scenario. Or we might just not have a sense of how long miles or kilometers are.

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