How often have you seen a design or piece of artwork that you really liked, but just didn’t know why? There could’ve been a number of reasons why you were drawn to it: its use of color, contrast, you woke up on the right side of the bed, etc. What also plays a major role in judging good design is what you don’t see. Good design often uses negative space, or white space: the empty space between objects (graphics, images and text) that allows our eyes to focus on what’s important. But how do you tell the difference between good use of negative space, and an incomplete design?
Believe me, if I hear the phrase, “less is more” one more time I’ll go nuts. The phrase is very overused, yet often misunderstood. It’s not necessarily about reducing the amount of content, but about organizing it in a way that helps viewers get the information they need before their attention spans run out. If negative space is not used correctly, the eye doesn’t know where to focus.
There are basic principles of design, which are based on psychological and scientific studies. For example, Gestalt Psychology maintains that the human eye sees objects in their entirety before perceiving their individual parts. Hick’s Law describes the time it takes for a person to make a decision as a result of the possible choices he or she has (basically, the more options you have, the more difficult and/or time-consuming it is to pick one of them).
An interesting article by Mark Boulton of A List Apart Magazine shows that the amount of negative space can actually help consumers determine whether a brand is upscale or down-market. See his examples below:
He states, “The content is the same on both designs, as are the other elements, such as photography. Yet the two designs stand at opposite ends of the brand spectrum. Less whitespace = cheap; more whitespace = luxury.”
Having just the right balance of positive and negative space should be the goal for every design, because we want our viewers to focus on the most important elements. If that balance gets skewed too far in the negative direction, the design may be perceived as unfinished (if not done in a purposeful way).