Have you left space to think: is negative space positive?

By in Content Marketing, Copywriting, Design Thinking | 2 comments

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Often what you leave out is just as important as what you leave in.



There’s a temptation when writing and designing that you want to cram in as much as possible.

Especially in the case of print communications, the reasoning used is that we’ve paid for the paper and the space, so we’d better fill up every square centimetre.

But don’t you think your reader needs a little space to breathe in? To think about what you’re trying to tell them? To allow them some calm places to go to and rock in the foetal position while considering your argument….

Whether it’s writing a flyer, proposal, an email or having a logo, a magazine page, or a website designed, sometimes the things you don’t add makes the piece more powerful than the things you do. This is often achieved by the use of negative space.

In print design, the use of negative space is often called white space – it’s the space that doesn’t hold any content and it’s usually the key aspect of what makes or breaks a design.

So what’s white space? It’s the places that you promote your products without words. Or pictures. Or anything else. It’s the places that give words ample space to weave their magic in the reader’s mind.

There’s an excellent introduction to the theory and use of whitespace and its importance in design (by Mark Boulton), that’s worth reading. Written in plain, simple language, the article clearly shows how white or negative space can be used to great effect.

In a nutshell, white space is the spacing between different elements – between the actual sections of the page even the space between letters in a word. In most cases, white space is used to space out content for easier and faster scanning of a page – removing the need to put in specific separating elements.

White or negative space is also used in shop design. Let’s say you’re in a store. It’s not a comfortable or pleasant experience if you can’t move around due to the overcrowded aisles. There’s just too much to look at and you have neither the time nor the patience to find what you originally came in looking for. It’s not nice.

This is one of the key features why Apple stores work so well. They’re minimalist and a large amount of the shop floor is given to the products themselves. They are the heroes.

So what does this all have to do with business writing? Well, quite a lot. On its own, fabulous copy doesn’t convince your readers to give away their time, to read your work.

This is exactly where simplicity, editing and white space all converge.

Used together correctly, they can enhance the performance of a document, web-site, improve readability and make a great first impression.

Learning the skill of asking oneself “does this really need to be here?” is the first step towards creating simplicity. The next is to understand the motivations of your audience.

Without knowledge of your audience, you cannot create for simplicity.

When you know the audience who will be looking at and reading your work, you can present it in a way that appeals to them.

If you are writing for anything vaguely upmarket or prestigious, especially items such as cosmetics and jewellery, plan on allowing your designer at least 25% of the available space to play with – 50% would be better. Too much copy and clutter will kill the ambience.

If you find you’ve written to many words, then get ruthless and edit it down. The best designs are simple, because they contain no unnecessary elements – and contain the necessary elements in a way that seems logical.

Remember that simplicity doesn’t equal boring. Simplicity doesn’t equal shallow. Simplicity is especially important when writing and designing information- and media-rich interfaces.


What do you think of negative space? Is it positive? Let us know below, in the comments.


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    • Di Mace

      August 24, 2011

      Post a Reply

      Deb,, you’ve made my day by saying that. I don’t set out to do that in writing, but if that’s a side/hidden benefit that you get, I’m over the moon.


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