Nature abhors a vacuum, the saying goes, and when you take a look at many communication pieces, whether print or electronic, you’d think that there are a lot of designers and programmers, not to mention clients, that feel the same way. Less is definitely not more, the more the merrier.
White space (or negative space) is the “open area” in your design. It can be white, a color, or even black, but it’s just as important to design as positive space (the area taken up by your ravishing images and wonderful content).
There are numerous samples of the use of positive and negative space that show the importance of both. In the famous image of the vase made up of two silhouettes, the “white space” and the “black space” are totally equal and important. Which one is positive and which one is negative? In the Yin-Yang symbol there are also both equal areas of positive and negative with circles in each to show that they are an integrated whole.
One of the most famous examples of a great use of negative space is the famous “Think Small” Volkswagen ad from the 1960s. Full page newspaper ad, enormous amount of white space, great concept, massive impact.
A more contemporary use of white space is shown every time you do a Google search. There is, of course, the totally open index page, but even the search results pages have been changed to be more subtle and easy on your eye.
1. It really helps with legibility and focusing the viewer’s attention on what you want them to focus on.
A Walk Down the Aisle
Picture yourself in any aisle of a grocery store looking for a particular product. All you see are splashes of bright color, bright type and packages that look the same. Take a two foot piece of white (or black) board and put it over the products on a shelf and step back. Your eye focuses on the clean open area of the card. That’s what the effective use of positive and negative space does- it focuses the viewer’s eye where you want it to go, much like the VW ad we mentioned above.
2. It can make your project more “upscale”- think cosmetics, luxury automobiles and high end tech products
That Upscale Feeling
It’s no accident that cosmetics and other luxury brands keep clutter to a minimum. From cars to tech to fashion, the effective use of positive and negative space reinforces the brand.
The luxury car makers; Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Cadillac et al, all have open web sites using lots of white space, dramatic images and clean, open navigation to show that these are quality products.
For effective, and elegant, use of positive/negative space you can’t beat the cosmetic companies. Chanel has an image and the bottom menu on its home page, that’s it. The simplicity and elegance of the brand is carried through to the packaging and print material. Lancome is almost all white space that forces the viewer to focus on simple compelling images, Estée Lauder, the same.
It’s easy to find excuses and throw the benefits of positive/negative space out the window: we have too many products, too much technical information, we need to fill up any “blank” space with images or text.
All of the useful information on United Airlines home page gets lost in a series of brightly colored confusing boxes, showing that even the big boys sometimes don’t think about how to get the message across most effectively.
It only takes a little bit of thought to use positive/negative space effectively, and the willingness to take a bit of a design risk. The rewards are more focus on your product or message, a brand upgrade, and the happy result that you’re providing a better design experience for your viewers and customers.