Join Sean Adams for an in-depth discussion in this video Using negative space to create a powerful composition, part of Graphic Design Foundations: Layout and Composition.
We live in a world that has a lot of stuff. We are bombarded with imagery and messages every day. We look at frenetic moving images on television and online. We see page after page of dense advertising in magazines. Even the evening news has multiple layers of information running simultaneously. Because we rarely see negative space, or areas without content, it makes us stop and pay attention when we do.
When the page is so cluttered with information, nothing stands out. When there is room to breathe and space to give content priority, the layout can communicate effectively. This invitation to an AIGA book show is a good example, it's clear and direct. The typography does double duty, as the spines of books And it uses negative space to its full advantage. First, if the headline were set in the middle of the page, they wouldn't feel like books.
Placing the headline at the bottom of the layout gives us the sense that books are heavy, and reinforces that symbolism. Then there is the negative space, it may seem like there's nothing above the headline, but that isn't true, there's a whole lot of white up there. In fact, there is so much white space that the invitation immediately stands out. In addition to commanding attention, negative space can isolate and clarify the information. Such as this poster that takes a complex typographic form and organizes it in one form with no distracting elements surrounding it.
It's a common mistake to work on a layout, feel that something is wrong and add something to fix it. This leads to more stuff added, and more. And when it isn't working, even more. The solution is often to not add, but subtract. Is there something that is serving no purpose, or you can find no reason to keep it? If it can't be justified, let it go, it's just visual distraction. If an element on the layout is not adding to the message, it's taking away from that message.
Nothing sits on the page neutral. I found that clients will see negative space as room to add more or make everything bigger. Maybe they think they're getting a good deal if the whole page is filled. A good way to highlight the importance of maintaining negative space is to show the client the solution in context. If it's a page in a magazine, put it in a magazine and let the client turn the pages. Use Photoshop to strip the project into an environmental context, if it's a poster, put it on a construction barricade or a bus shelter.
No layout lives in a void, and this is critical to show how it looks in the real world. Negative space is an effective way to show how strong your solution is, and how much it stands out against the clutter.
- What makes a successful layout?
- Layout elements: shape, line, color, texture, type, and space
- Using balance and tension to create a dynamic layout
- Adding drama with contrast and scale
- Working with proportions: golden section, rule of thirds, etc.
- Creating the right grid for your design
- Choosing simplicity or excess
- Adding an element of surprise
- Making images and typography work together