Join John McWade for an in-depth discussion in this video The power of empty space, part of Before & After: Graphic Design Techniques.
In design, empty space, that's space where nothing is happening, is visual silence. And you need it. You know, comic timing relies on that little pause while the audience gets it, for the joke to work. That pause is empty space. You hear silence in music all the time. I mean in one minute the air is full of sound and rhythm and then it gets quiet, sometimes silent for a few bars, then it comes back up, you know, with more power than before. And just rouses you and the audience.
I mean, it's exciting. That silence is empty space. You use silence all the time in everyday speech. You know, kind of like, thinking space. Like this. Silence is a regular part of things. So, for your designs to feel natural, as well as to be strong. You need to use empty space in rhythm with your filled space. Empty space is often called white space and this is a topic I'll talk about a lot.
For now I have two examples. The first is one of those fortuders layouts that practically designed itself. It's the lead of an editorial article about an unpopular corporate CEO, who after a string of failed acquisitions found herself embattled and isolated. And about to be fired. The article is titled, Alone at the Top. We have been given the headline and a descriptive deck head plus a photo. And this photo couldn't be better, it's dark she's pictured in profile no eye contact with us, which is important her gaze is distant. I mean, even here looking away from the copy adds to her sense of isolation. If she were looking into the copy, she wouldn't look happier. But she would appear more engaged.
So, here's what we'll do. Put the photo on the page, sample a background color along an edge, and fill the page. Now reduce her size and place her on the bottom edge near the corner. Two things to note here. One is that white space doesn't have to be white. It can be any color.
Black is especially powerful. Two is that in making her small, we've made the black huge, and it's heavy. That weight and empty expanse amplifies her sense of isolation and burden. So, in once sense it's empty, with nothing in it, but it's full of black. Which obviously has storytelling presence.
Add the headline, add the deck head, all the way across the page from the photo, and there you go. Alone at the top. Okay, empty space can be cheery too. And it doesn't have to be entirely empty. Here we have a head and a paragraph of text. And a photo, and what I wanted to do was emphasize the littleness of the ladybug.
So, its again small, and at the bottom, but because the topic is like this time, the white space acts like a stage. Like an open light filled space instead deadweight. Not only that, you basically perceive the entire page as white. Even though there's copy on it. That's because the copy is so light. That's on purpose and fairly widely spaced that you just see right through it, the head and paragraph are set in the same type face.
One bold the other light. A cool thing, and important, is the littleness of the headline. It's the same size as the text. Yet in bold, and orange like the ladybug, you can see how visible it is. How the two just span the page and tie together. A headline doesn't have to be big. In this case, it's small size helps convey the littleness. So, that's it.
Remember, that for your designs to feel natural, like real life, as well as to be strong. Expressive, well-timed, you need to use empty space in rhythm with your filled space.
This course was created and produced by the Before & After magazine team. We are honored to host this content in our library.
- How to design a logo fast
- Designing a business card
- Understanding the power of empty space
- Typesetting a list of names
- Working around a weak photo