The Importance of: Negative Space

Adam Fitness
January 20, 2021

What is Negative Space?

Negative space, or sometimes called white space, or clear space, is an aspect of design that refers to an open or empty space in the design. It can be found in the space between design elements, such as typography or photography. Or between design elements and the edge of the page (or screen if you’re designing digitally), or even the empty space enclosed by an element, such as the counter (design term for the ‘hole’) in the letter o.

The term negative space originated from the photography industry, where the subject of the image would be in focus and would be referred to as the positive, therefore area around the focal point would become the negative space. Negative space doesn’t have to be a blank space either, it could be a background texture or a block colour.

Over the past decade, negative space has become more prominent in design, as trends have moved towards cleaner and more minimalistic compositions with a focus on usability, readability and functionality. In order to achieve these design goals, designers have embraced the used of negative space.

Why is Negative Space important?

Negative space is the invisible element that, when utilised correctly, can make a design great. Or, if used incorrectly, can have the exact opposite effect and really give your brands reputation a bit of a hit.

Negative space provides a cushion around the different elements in your design, providing the eyes with some rest within the composition. Having too much content without much negative space can overwhelm the audience, making them uncomfortable and a little bit on edge when looking at your design.

Another reason for utilising negative space more effectively is that it can provide contrast and impact, drawing viewers into certain aspects of the composition, separating different thoughts and ideas, creating a hierarchy of information within your design. 

Contrast is another one of those fundamental concepts of design that when utilised correctly can really make your design that much more successful. I should probably write a blog about contrast in the future as well.

How to implement Negative Space well?

Now you might be thinking, “Oh, I get it, I just need to make my margins a little bigger, and add a bit more padding around my elements”. And that’s a great start, but other areas you might not have originally considered and things like spacing between letterforms (Kerning), or between separate lines of text themselves (Leading), or even curating your imagery a bit more so you consider the ‘busyness’ of the image, and how that will sit amongst the rest of your composition.

If you’re ever stuck wondering how much negative space is enough, I think a good rule of thumb is that for every two-thirds of content you have include one-third of negative space around it, that way it keeps everything feeling somewhat balanced and proportionate. Of course, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, it can also depend on what kind of feeling or emotions you want to evoke in your design if you’re designing for a luxury, premium brand, you may want to increase your usage of negative space. Or if your goal is to make the viewer feel uneasy or overwhelmed, maybe you should just ignore this blog altogether and never utilise negative space.

There are a lot of ways to influence and affect the negative space in your designs, it sometimes just takes a bit of exploration and imagination to find the right ways to implement it.