Many designers make the mistake of creating overly busy and complex web designs, filling every corner with colour and content. But does adding loads of content equate to a ‘good design’ for the user? Well, current trends in web design demonstrate that negative space is not simply an excuse for a lacking imagination, instead, it’s actually integral to user experience. Ensuring there is enough negative space within the design allows the user to comfortably absorb the information which is being presented on the page, and if used in the right manner, it offers a stunning visual impact. But before uncovering exactly how we use it in web design, we need to ask the question…
What is Negative Space?
Also known as ‘white space’, negative space describes the areas between different elements on a web page. These spaces deliberately do not display content and contrary to popular belief, do not have to be white. Instead, it can be of any colour or can simply include the gradients, patterns or background on the page. In this example, the sky provides the negative space needed to bring out the darker foreground image of Bear Grylls, but also offers a backdrop for the rocky mountainscape in the middle ground.
Let’s dig a little deeper into how we incorporate negative space into web design…
It is very important that the visitors on your website find the copy easy to read. This means that the content and copy on a web page (as opposed to book or paper) has to be treated in a specific manner. These are general guidelines which designers follow, and their ability to leverage these is where the creativity comes in. One such guideline suggests that negative space is required as a buffer to stop the web page look cluttered, yet at the same time to make the content more readable. If you have a particular tagline that sums up your brand, negative space can guide a user’s eye to the meaningful words, in this case, ‘make it beautiful’, ensuring the user gets your brand’s message instantly.
Web development is all about maintaining a fine balance among all the elements of the web page. This involves designing a web page in such a manner that each element gets its due space and importance. The visitor should not be bombarded with images or get carried away by one specific element on the web page. Google effectively guides the user to the actionable areas of the page, i.e. the ‘search bar’, ‘images’ and ‘Gmail’. They deliberately kept the design simple and balanced to avoid confusion and to maximise the action rate of the user.
A web design which lacks sharp spacing and hierarchy is not satisfying to the human eye. We find satisfaction in order and tidiness, especially when it comes to visuals. If a website looks confused and messy, we will assume the brand itself has the same characteristics. Introducing negative space means you can clearly differentiate between different elements on the web page. By increasing or decreasing the visibility of certain elements, web designers can put elements like a logo, navigation icon, headers, and image slideshows in a clear hierarchy, giving a unity of form to the web design.
This way, all the elements on the web page will also gain an aura of importance, making it attractive for the end-user. If used in a loose manner, the negative space might shift focus of the content and thereby become less effective.
Ultimately, all the website owners want their website to look sophisticated. This can be achieved by using the negative space in an intelligent way. It’s integral to visible composition, even if it’s mostly processed by the subconscious mind. you might not be aware of it, but negative space evokes feelings of discipline, simplicity and cleanliness, all things we associate with sophistication.
There are no fixed rules when it comes to the use of negative space. Experimentation, the trustworthy companion of any artist, is probably the best way forward. But most importantly, don’t think of space as something you omit, think of it as something you create.