A wooden chair with a yellow seat and back sitting on one side of an otherwise empty yellow room.

Creating negative space: Positives for your design

march 30, 2023

Negative space can give a design breathing room—in fact it might be the missing element in your latest creation. Let's explore some examples of negative space in both visuals and text.

What is negative space?

Negative space—also known as blank or "white space"—is the space around, behind, beside, and between the main elements of a design. Don't let the word white fool you, though: the emptiness can be whatever color you choose. This space between design elements can be as broad as two images on a webpage or as small as the gap between letters.

Side-by-side images of a chair in an image with the word "relax." The left image does not have much negative space. The right image has a lot of negative space around the chair.

What can you do with negative space in your designs?

Think of negative space as absence as design element. That sounds a bit Zen, but just like meditation calms your mind and heightens your attention, creating negative space can both calm design clutter and heighten design clarity.

Turns out, you can do a lot with nothing. Negative space is one of the key elements artists and graphic designers consider as they create. Here are some examples of how you can use the strategic emptiness of negative space to your advantage and turn that negative into a design positive.

Frame images

If you really want someone to pay attention to a photo, drawing, or logo, adding negative space is the way to go. It not only reduces the visual clutter around your design's important element, it signals to the viewer that this idea stands by itself. Heard of the term "focal point"? Designs with negative space naturally create focal points within the larger image.

Side-by-side images of doughnuts. The image on the left is a tight crop with very little negative space around the doughnut. The image on the right is a single doughnut with lots of space around it.

Enhance readability

Just as negative space around an image makes that image stand out, empty space around words, phrases, or paragraphs screams "THIS IS IMPORTANT" to viewers. It may encourage them to look up and pay attention, which is crucial for signs and advertisements. With a large amount of text, less dense words and sentences makes reading an easier task—important for overall communication.

Side-by-side images of text. The text on the left has no negative space. The text on the right has negative space around text that the customer should pay attention to.

Make logos pop

A clever use of negative space is to work with design elements, such as letters or shapes, to make the negative space as meaningful as the elements themselves. For instance, what if you noticed the space between two letters naturally created an arrow? In 1994, Lindon Leader of Landor Associates was able to heighten the appearance of that faint arrow between the E and the X and find an unexpected way to communicate the forward movement. And of course, negative space helps ensure your logos have breathing room within a larger layout, clearly branding your content.

Side-by-side images of the FedEx logo. The image on the right makes use of empty space between E and X to show an arrow, indicating forward movement.

Keep it simple

What's simpler than nothing? Negative space helps streamline, simplify, and focus both the message within the design and guide the viewer's eye. The resurgence of minimalism in interior and web design proves that many people find simplicity rather attractive, or they can at least appreciate it.

Hold everything together

Negative space can seem invisible while it balances and unifies your design. For example, on a web page, you might have a blend of text and images, all of which work together to convey the same meaning but have a logical order and importance. In art and design, part of the beauty stems from the relationships between shapes and subjects (such as the golden ratio), what hits the eye first, and how your gaze travels across the landscape.

A website with design that features carefully constructed negative space that aligns to the golden ratio.

How to create negative space

The good news is creating negative space can be as easy as having fewer words and images on a page and paying attention to how what's already present interacts.

  • Experiment! Try moving titles and images apart, or if you realize they inform each other, closer together, or play with their placement within the overall layout.
  • Be ruthless in what you cut or include. Figure out if one image can do the work of two or rephrase titles to just a few words.
  • Think about what you're trying to communicate—odds are, with the natural flow of information, you'll notice opportunities to create space and distance.
  • Observe the organic shapes that form as you experiment with moving elements around—you might find a message hiding inside or an extra opportunity to be creative shining through.

If you're new to design, it can take a second to see the value of negative space. It might feel too simple, as if you're missing something if you haven't maximized every single element from fonts to filters. But these examples of what negative space can do for you argue strongly for paying attention to the spaces between.

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