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Why using white space (or negative space) in design matters

why white space negative space design matters

By Marc Brabander

Why you should design with space in mind

I hazard a guess that in general you really like your personal space.... Guess what – it’s no different for the key message in any of the flyers/brochures you design.

For designers, one of the biggest challenges is to find the best possible balance between the information that’s required to be told, the size of the document, and the space between it all. Mostly called ‘white space’, space is a precious commodity that is often overlooked by trying to cram in as much information as possible on a DL flyer.

White space (also referred to as negative space) is a vital aspect to every design – it can make a significant difference to the focal points of a design, overall look & feel of the brochure, readability, and finally understandability (if there is such a word). I guess what I am trying to say is that the design focus for a brochure should be that the content is understood, that design-wise it fits with the brand of the company/product – white space aids significantly in that.

Origins of ‘white space’

If you like your art, you might have heard about positive and negative space. Positive space  refers to the primary focus of a picture, while negative space refers to the background.  With the advent of ‘modern’ printing techniques in the mid-1400s, ‘white space’ was the term given to the area where the black print was not, and with the paper being white.

White space… not just empty words

White space is literally everywhere – in essence, it is an empty or open space around an object, or the space in between objects. Great use of white space allows you (or your eyes) to pause and breathe, taking in the importance of the object it is supporting.  It is used to great effect in a plethora of creative fields, such as interior/architectural design (particularly offices and high-end homes), fine arts, photography, music, gardening, fine dining, and of course graphic design. Our natural world knows a thing or two about that white space too – just look at flowers for example… you’ve got a bright bold stamen surrounded by ‘white space’ surrounded by foliage. 

I often say that it all happens in the space between things. When you pay attention to a conversation, often where the magic is not what is said, but what is not said.

When used creatively and smartly, the balance between white space and the text/image elements on your brochure, significantly enhances the message you are trying to get across. Much more-so that the text alone. In other words, white space is there to help define and reinforce the importance and dynamics of your message… it provides a creative balance to compositional structure.

Without considering using white space as a key element in design, a brochure will look cluttered and cramped, it would be hard to read (and understand). It’s the difference between a light fluffy chiffon cake, or a torturous dense, flat and heavy chiffon cake… I know which one I’d go for!!

Harnessing the power of white space

Now you know a little more of white space, how do you use it to your best advantage?

In this example below I have shown a simple design with no regard to white space (on right) and one where white space is embraced (shown left).

The design piece is a print sample show-casing the various paper types we have available for our poster printer.

It only consists of three elements – logos (incl. phone number), the paper type and weight, and finally a suitable image to showcase the colour range and depth of the print sample.

why white space negative space design matters

There are a few simple pointers to help you start to balance out your design with white space – one I use frequently is viewing the design by squinting my eyes.

This blurs the key elements and brings the white space to an equal footing – it gives you a quick view of how the white space is distributed.

why white space negative space design matters

Ultimately, it comes down to ‘feeling it’, more-so than following a rigid few steps, particularly considering every design piece is different. In short, something either feels good, or something feels off kilter… 

Simple pointers to keep in mind:

  • Work out and focus on your importance of the various key messages of your design piece eg. work out up-front which key messages to include, and give priority to one over the other. As an example – a poster advertising an event: a) name of the event, b) date/time of the event, c) who’s playing, d) what’s in it for the visitors, e) where to buy tickets, f) sponsors, etc.

  • Allow your most important key message to ‘breathe’ by using white space around it (this can include an image in the background – one that supports the key message).

  • Block elements together (text, images, diagram)

  • Alignment – ensure that separate elements are lined up

  • And of course, be considerate of client’s brand image

  • To check the white space and other elements on the page, I often squint so that I see all the element in a blur and end up seeing the white space more clearly.

See if you can find any brochures or advertising material that doesn’t make use of white space – love to see them!

If you would like more information or assistance with your design project, please drop me a line - call me on (02) 4990 3230 or send an email at marc@binkcreative.com.au.


Marc Brabander
BINK Creative


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