White space and negative space are misnomers really as they certainly don’t have to be white and there is nothing negative about them, they’re catch-all terms for clear space in a design.
Less is more
Quite often design decisions can be as much about what NOT to include or what to actively remove, as much as they are about what to keep or add to a layout. A design with very little white space will look cramped, be more difficult to read (and therefore less likely to be read) and generally look cheap. The more space you can attribute to having essentially ‘nothing’ in it, the higher-quality the product will appear to be.
Take for example a leaflet for a pizza delivery service versus a corporate sales brochure for a prestige car, or a local trade publication versus a high-end glossy magazine. Each of these examples would have very different design styles because they are appealing to different markets and/or to different buying decisions. In general products and services that need to be perceived as higher-value, higher-quality or more exclusive will be presented using far more restrained layouts and considerably less text than something that is cheaper, more abundant or trades on price. It’s a psychological effect really – in the higher end designs it essentially says, we have a great product (and we charge accordingly) and so we don’t need to give you lots of detail. They are demonstrating that they don’t need to skimp on the production values or use every last part of every page available – they can effectively ‘waste’ all of this space, but of course, it is not wasted at all, it all serves to enhance the product.
Negative space in logo design
An alternative name for white space is ‘negative’ space, but this is also used in logo design to refer to clever design details that give the impression of something by the mere absence of something else. This is not as confusing as it sounds. For a great example take a look at the WWF (not the wrestling one!) logo – there are no lines joining the top of the head or the Panda’s back, but your brain fills them in any way. You could easily draw the missing lines in, but this would complicate the illustration without any added benefit. Other great examples are the Guild of Food Writers and the Swan and Mallard pub sign.
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