What is negative space in design and how can you use it?

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22 Jan
2024
18 Jan
2024
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In the world of design, what you don’t include can be as important as what you do. This is the power of negative space — the empty areas that shape and define everything else. It might sound like a complex term, but, in fact, this concept is beautifully simple, and we invite you to discover it today.

Negative space is a powerful but understated element that adds a sense of balance and harmony to a website. Designers, in turn, can use this technique to play around and find the perfect spot for a layout they’re currently working on. In this article, we’re going to talk about air in design. Read on as we bring together all the crucial insights in one place, illuminating how this invisible art form can make a visible impact on your designs.

What is negative space in design?

Negative space, often known as white space, is essentially the empty area in a design layout. It’s the room between lines, gaps in graphics, and empty fields that surround the content on a webpage. While it gives content some room to breathe, viewers can easily digest and engage with the information presented. Using this space is crucial, not because of what it adds, but because of how it accentuates and frames everything else, bringing a sense of order and calm to the visual image.

The empty spaces in web design speak as loudly as the filled ones.

What’s the difference between negative and positive space?

When we talk about negative space, it’s often in the shadow of its more prominent opposite, positive space. But what really sets them apart?

Positive space refers to elements that you actively place in your design, like text, images, and graphics. It’s the part of your website that tells a story, conveys a message, and showcases the brand. Simply put, these are the areas where the attention is naturally drawn first.

In contrast, negative space is all about the empty areas that surround and separate these elements. But don’t be fooled by the word “empty.” Negative space works in tandem with positive one, making your message clear and visuals impactful. Together, they create a balance, leading the viewer’s eye across a page in a smooth flow.

Why is negative space important?

You have the freedom to use a variety of elements in any way you prefer and in any order that suits your vision. However, it’s a common misconception that cramming everything onto one webpage will save time, cut costs, and win over your audience with utility. This approach can backfire dramatically. The truth is that users are unable to process too much information at once, and overloading a page can confuse them.

Negative space is vital for several reasons, and here are the main points we’d like to outline:

  • Negative space makes it easier to navigate and scan a page, allowing users to find information quickly and efficiently.
  • It accentuates and establishes visual hierarchy, guiding the eye to key elements effortlessly.
  • This technique subtly outlines the relationships between different elements, eliminating the need for explicit dividers like frames or lines.
  • By providing “breathing room” around elements, it ensures a page doesn’t feel overcrowded or chaotic.
  • Such a concept directs focus to primary content, minimizing distractions and improving user engagement with important elements.

As you can see, negative space is a practical method brimming with benefits. Ultimately, the real question is: how is it applied in practice, and what impact does it truly have? We’ve taken care of that too, so read on!

Best examples of negative space in design

Now would be a good time to demonstrate the concept of negative space with examples, and we’re excited to share some of the best picks from Halo Lab’s Dribbble portfolio. Each one showcases the power of negative space in a unique way, illustrating how it can transform a simple layout into a captivating visual experience.

WID

WID is a company specializing in green energy that focuses on the use and tracking of wind power in various devices. Given the presence of high-quality graphics and a large number of other elements, Halo Lab designers opted for a dark green negative space in the lower left corner. This choice complements the theme of wind energy, balances all components, and ensures that the layout doesn’t feel overcrowded. 
A small, circular element is deliberately sized down, avoiding additional visual clutter.

WID’s thematic harmony with clever use of dark green space

ARKT

For ARKT, an AI illustrations creator, we applied a confident and striking design approach. The centerpiece is a bold black font used for the headline, which immediately captures attention and clearly communicates the essence of the site. This strong, visually dominant text could potentially overwhelm the webpage, but our designers balanced it with the use of diagonally negative space in a muted grey tone. This backdrop is thoughtfully punctuated with small, interactive buttons and additional bright orange elements that add visual interest.

WID’s thematic harmony with clever use of dark green space

Foderma

Foderma is a pioneering website in AI home styling. In its layout, Halo Lab experts employed negative space as a horizontal divider. Upon viewing the design, it’s immediately apparent that the page is segmented into two distinct parts. The top section, or the “hero section,” introduces users to Foderma’s unique proposition. Following this, a swath of free space effectively separates it from the subsequent part of the design, where a blend of 3D elements, text, and graphics creates a dynamic image.

Foderma’s smooth division of sections by negative space

Bioskin

Working on a beauty-oriented Bioskin platform, we came up with a design that skillfully uses vertical negative space. Their layout consists of three main sections, each serving a distinct purpose. To clearly communicate the brand’s mission, our team combined a high-quality photo with text in the central part of the design. Also, designers structured different elements, like video content, descriptive tags, and links to product lines, with the usage of negative space on both sides.

Vertical free space divider in Bioskin design

NFTX

NFTX is a digital platform where the Halo Lab team utilized negative space to bring a sharp focus to the central composition, particularly the headline. In this case, the text is rendered prominently, featuring large typography that combines a bold font with italics. This message we accompanied by well-placed icons and additional buttons that enrich and complete its presentation. To ensure that this vibrant headline remains the focal point, our designers employed negative space around it. This approach creates a clean, pleasant, and readable environment, allowing the text and related features to stand out from other design elements.

The mix of bold header and negative space in main title

8 ways for efficient use of negative space

It’s amazing how negative space can turn a decent design into something truly remarkable. With the references for inspiration and the following tips, you might spark the next great design idea. Stick around as we’ll explore eight practical ways to make the most of negative space.

1. Make text readable and legible

When elements on a page or screen are cramped, with little to no space between them, it can be challenging for users to read, requiring additional effort and concentration. This lack of adequate negative space, particularly in smaller areas, can lead to visual stress and cognitive strain. Many users might not explicitly recognize this as the root of their discomfort, but they will feel its impact.

By strategically using white space around and between text elements, you can enhance the ease with which the audience reads and comprehends the message. This way, you add quiet pauses that allow the text to breathe within the design.

Adequate spacing creates a clean, uncluttered look that invites readers in rather than overwhelming them.

2. Use visual hierarchy

Effective use of negative space helps organize the content in a way that naturally guides the viewer’s eye to the most important elements first. By varying the air around different elements, you subtly create a hierarchy, signaling to the viewer which parts of your design hold primary, secondary, or tertiary importance.

One popular method of applying visual hierarchy in web design is the Z-layout, which mirrors the natural scanning habits of most people. When we see content, our eyes typically follow a “Z pattern.” This means we first look at the top left of the page, then move horizontally to the top right. After this, our gaze drops to the center of the page before proceeding from the bottom left to the bottom right.

With this technique in mind, you can control the flow of information effectively, connecting the audience with the content in the desired order and with the right emphasis.

3. Maintain brand integrity

The space around branding elements, like logos and trademarks, helps them stand out without competition or clutter. Too little air can make a logo feel cramped and overshadowed by other design elements. This lack of breathing room can lower the mark’s prominence, leaving it less effective and unattractive. 

On the other hand, an excess of space, while avoiding the issue of clutter, might lead to a logo appearing isolated and disconnected from the rest of the design. Finding this delicate balance keeps a logo as a focal point, drawing the viewer’s eye and reinforcing the brand’s presence.

4. Follow the design tone

Websites and digital platforms skillfully use negative space to match their specific tone and purpose. For example, news websites, which are information-centric, often utilize less free space. They opt for a data-rich page, prioritizing content density and immediacy. This approach leads to a dynamic, sometimes bustling layout, which is in line with the urgent and informative nature of news content.

In contrast, blogs or creative websites tend to embrace more negative space. It offers a relaxed, open, and inviting feel, encouraging visitors to stick around and explore at their own pace. This technique creates a sense of comfort, making it ideal for platforms where the user experience is all about exploration and reflection.

5. Use logical grouping

You can group related elements together and make your layout more organized with the correct use of negative space. It helps create distinct sections or categories within the design, which aids users in intuitively understanding how different parts of your content are connected.

For instance, in web design, navigation links are typically grouped together to provide a clear and accessible guide for users. Similarly, in content layouts, paragraphs are used to collect and present ideas in a cohesive manner. The space around these groups acts as a visual separator, making the design cleaner and more structured.

6. Respect spacing and margins for text

Adequate margins ensure that text doesn’t appear crammed to the edges, which can be visually jarring and hard to follow. Also, appropriate spacing between lines of text and individual letters can dramatically improve legibility. This thoughtful use of free space around elements prevents the design from becoming text-heavy and overwhelming.

Make sure that the width of paragraph columns and margins is not excessively large. Also, there should be enough space on the left and right sides of the page to create a balanced and harmonious layout. For body text at 16 pixels, a general guideline is to set line spacing at about 130–150%, while a smaller format of about 100-120% is often better suited for larger headlines.

For larger headlines, a smaller line spacing of about 100-120% is often better suited.

7. Use micro and macro white space

White space can be divided into two main types: micro and macro. The former refers to the small gaps between elements like letters, lines of text, or items in a list. Despite the minimal appearance, micro white space has a big impact on readability and how easily a user can digest information.

In turn, macro white space is more noticeable, covering larger areas of empty space between major layout elements. Balancing both these types allows a design to breathe, creating an appealing and functionally effective image for users.

8. Create contrast for visual balance

By juxtaposing elements against the negative space, designers can create a striking visual contrast that draws the viewer’s attention. This can involve placing a vibrant, detailed image on a plain background, which can make the content pop and become more engaging.

Similarly, using negative space to frame and highlight a key part of the design, like a call-to-action button or a featured product, ensures that these elements are not lost in the visual shuffle. The contrast helps to create a focal point, guiding the viewer’s eye to the most important parts of the design.

Traps of negative space

While negative space is a powerful technique in design, there are certain pitfalls that designers need to be wary of. These traps can undermine the effectiveness of a layout if not carefully navigated, and understanding them is the ticket to success.

  • The very term “negative space” can be misleading. It’s often misconstrued as merely “empty” space, resulting in an underestimation of its importance in creating a balanced design.
  • Another common trap is the overzealous minimization of negative space to add more content to a layout. While the intention is often to provide enough information, this approach can backfire, leading to cluttered and overwhelming designs.
  • Bad prioritization can result in improper use of negative space. Misplaced or poorly thought-out negative space can create visual imbalance, where some areas of the design feel overcrowded while others seem barren. This uneven distribution of space can disrupt the visual flow, drawing the viewer’s attention to less important elements and away from key messages or calls to action.
Adequate spacing creates a clean, uncluttered look that invites readers in rather than overwhelming them.

Beyond the space

Often overlooked, negative space remains an important piece of any design. It doesn’t clamor for attention and silently transforms websites, making them more readable, balanced, and visually appealing. So, the next time you approach a design project, consider the elements you add and the space you leave open. The magic, after all, might just lie in the spaces in between.

If inspiration is what you seek, we highly recommend exploring diverse platforms such as Behance, Dribbble, and Awwwards. Here, you can witness how designers experiment with negative space, play with balance and contrast, and aren’t afraid to break the rules to achieve something truly innovative. Remember, every great design starts as an idea in someone’s mind, and your next creation could be the one that inspires others.

Writing team:
Dmуtro
Editor
Iryna
Technical writer
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