Accentuate the Negative (Space)
I finally got around to painting the downstairs bathroom in our new place last week. Time to lose the shiny blue walls and go with my color of the moment, an oyster shell white. While it might seem a bit bland and boring to some, our home is filled with colorful art, so that plain white provides the perfect backdrop, the negative space that lets the artwork shine.
Whether it’s drawing, painting, or graphic design, negative space creates the outline and surroundings for the subject at hand (the “positive” space). As a designer, I am always thinking about both, going back and forth between them until they complement each other, with the understanding that the negative space can be just as important to the final effect as the positive.
While it may not seem like an actual design element, negative space plays several important roles:
It gives the eyes a rest and a break from type and images. There are times when it is essential to pack a lot of information on a page, and things can become dense and difficult for the viewer to wade through. In that case, I would make the text smaller and increase the negative space between lines. This opens things up, making the page breathe easier so the message connects.
Negative space creates balance between text and visuals. I often purposely leave wide margins on a page so that the eye can move back and forth between the information and the resting area of that negative space.
Negative space can also play a more prominent role. There are times when the contrast between positive and negative space creates a tension that really compels the viewer to pay attention. I love when that happens!
In design, as in life, it’s that blend of the positive and the negative that keeps things charged up and interesting.