Graphic Design: Harnessing the Power of Negative Space

Graphic Design: Harnessing the Power of Negative Space

The term ‘negative space’ is often bandied about amongst graphic designers, but what actually is it? After all, it sounds more like something out of Star Trek than graphic design, but don’t worry, you don’t need to set phasers to stun!

Negative Space? What’s That?!

Negative space refers to those areas of the design where nothing’s happening, there’s no text, no images, no shadowing, just empty space.

And this empty space (which can be any colour) is an important design element for your projects.

Why Do You Need Negative Space?

You need negative space in your design for a number of reasons:

Symmetry – Using negative space allows you to bring symmetry to your designs by allowing all the elements to sit together neatly and guide the viewer’s focus

Simplicity – It’s a cardinal sin of graphic design to bombard viewers with too much information by packing out your designs. Negative space, however, allows some breathing space for your ideas to shine and stand out.

Subtlety – One of the most amazing aspects of negative space is that it allows you to give your designs effective, but subtle new dimensions. The best example of this is the FedEx logo where the use of negative space in between the E and the X forms an arrow to highlight FedEx’s mode of operation.

By incorporating all these touches to your designs you’re creating powerful designs which tap into viewers’ subconscious and allow them to join the dots between the design and the message you’re trying to promote.

How Do You Integrate Negative Space?

Negative space, then, is a highly potent tool for graphic designers to have at their disposal, but it’s not always easy understanding how to utilise it in designs. That’s why I’m going to share a few tips on how to build it in to your designs successfully!

Research Negative Space – My little guide to negative space is a great way to start getting to grips with the concept, but you’re going to need to research many successful uses of negative space as well. Take a look at what works and why it works e.g. why does your eye seamlessly move from element to element and not get confused.

Don’t Use Too Many Colours – Due to the amount of empty space that negative space demands you want to minimise any distractions from your main message. And one of the biggest mistakes made here is by using too many colours. Anything more than three will be too distracting and damage the viewer’s focus.

Keep Elements Correctly Sized – The objects in your designs should always emphasise the negative space, but keeping themselves fairly small. Now, I’m not suggesting you just have a huge expanse of white and then some antlike writing, but, instead, make sure that your objects don’t overwhelm the empty spaces or you’re kinda shooting yourself in the foot!

Be Clever and Creative – The biggest challenge with negative space is using it in a way that creates an optical illusion with your design e.g. the FedEx logo’s arrow. This will take a lot of playing around and planning work to succeed, but when it works it adds hidden depths to a design which viewers get a huge thrill from spotting.

As you can see, it’s highly important that graphic designers have the concept of negative space perfected to create amazing designs. It may look very simple in the finished design, but negative space actually demands a lot of thought to nail that seemingly simple focus guide. Use it correctly, though, and you’ll find that your designs are a lot more successful.



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