By Michelle Barnett
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Mind the gap! – why we use negative space

Blank space is not dead space.

When delivering a design, a common request designers get is to add more information or expand objects to fill any remaining blank space.  It’s not uncommon to hear of things devolving into a verbal pushing match.  One person is trying to add more and more elements into a design, while the maker is stubbornly defending what looks like unused, empty real estate.

That empty area is known as Negative Space, or sometimes White Space.  This just means leaving breathing room around the elements on your page, and leaving that space can add a lot of strength to your design.  Here’s why…

Space gives clarity

Design is not primarily a decorative pursuit (although sometimes it seems that way!)  Design is about fulfilling a function; in our case the delivery of information.  Sometimes that means specific information like a title or date.  Sometime’s it’s less quantifiable, like a facial expression, an age group, or an emotion.  And of course some of that information is going to be more vital than others to a design.  On a website the call to action, or link to the shop or contacts page should be far more obvious than the link to the staff biographies.

Negative space can be useful to allow images to breathe.

Giving an object breathing room means that it doesn’t compete with other items around it.  Deciding how much attention should be given to each part of your design helps to settle the size and layout of each of them.  We can even lead the viewer’s eye around the page, with quite a lot of accuracy!

Space provides simplicity

Putting too many objects close to each other often results in a design where you can’t see the wood for the trees.  This is especially true when it comes to typefaces.  The white space between lines of text is called leading, and in general the smaller that space is, the harder that text is to read.

Leading in ultised to ensure the type can be read easily.

A similar thing happens if you try and put all your body text in capitals. Because all the letters are the same size, it becomes really difficult for readers to find the start of a sentence or differentiate between one word and the next.  Using our usual mix of lower and upper case letters helps to break blocks of text down into easily legible sections.

Spacing out your text forces you to be succinct, and creates balance in what could otherwise be a very dense area of your design.

Space sets a clear focus

You’ll often hear us talk about a ‘visual hierarchy’ – making the important bits of information the most obvious.  If all the objects on your design or webpage are equally as eye-catching, it’s hard to work out what the main focus is.  This is where negative space comes in.  Performing some strategic weeding creates a frame of space around the central focus, and gives the design a sense of confidence.  

We don’t need to fill up the gaps with extra persuasions, because our main message is just so clear and convincing!

The writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry famously said “Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.”  He was designing aircraft at the time, not websites or banners, but he was still right on the money.  Thanks Antoine!

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