Negative Space More Than a Pretty Face

Negative space is not wasted space. It points to the key message of an ad, brochure, invitation of PowerPoint presentation.

Negative space is not wasted space. It points to the key message of an ad, brochure, invitation of PowerPoint presentation.

If you are one of those people who point to open space on a design for a brochure, advertisement or PowerPoint and suggest putting in more copy, stop it. Open space isn't there by accident.

Negative space, as graphic designers refer to it, helps cue the eye of where to go. It is a critical, not an accidental aspect of a design.

Pages, ads or slides crammed with words, charts and images make it harder for viewers to know where to look first. Visual confusion can quickly lead to frustration. When it is to hard to fathom, readers put down a brochure, turn the page of a publication or stop paying attention to the slide presentation.

The notion of "clean design" incorporates wise use of open space. An effective page, ad or slide centers on a dominant feature that isn't crowded by a lot of lesser items. That feature delivers the key message, with open space pointing the way.

Negative space must be proportional to the featured element. That is achieved when the open space is part of the overall design, not just the space left uncovered by copy.

The absence of an image or words can be its own message. Think of a full-page newspaper ad that is mostly blank, with just a few words: "This is what newspapers look like in countries that censor journalists who dare to report the news."

Sometimes negative space can tell its story by how it is designed. The cover of "Peter and the Wolf" employed negative space in the shape of a boy's head, encircled by the wolf on the prowl. The curving wolf would have been meaningless without the boy's negative-space silhouette.

Cramped layout equates for most viewers to loud TV or radio ads. Jam-packed designs have the same negative effect as a pitchman screaming on air.

For reviewers who wear green eyeshades and want to squeeze every penny's worth of value out of an buy or piece of printed material, open space must seem like a waste. But rest assured, open space is one of the best investments per square inch you make to surround quality content.

There is nothing negative about negative space. It is more than a pretty face.