The Power of Negative: The Role of White Space


The web design field is constantly fluctuating and evolving. What’s cool, trendy, and effective one month can easily become dated the next. But if there’s one principle that’s held relatively steady over the last few years, it’s simplicity. And the best way to achieve simplicity is through the use of negative space.

The Benefits of Negative Space in Web Design

There’s a tendency among web designers to assume that more is better. You’ve felt the pressure, right? All of your education and experience has trained you to believe that complex designs and methods must be better – after all, they’re more difficult! But the irony of the matter is that simple sells. In particular, the proper use of negative space can have a significant influence on the effectiveness of your web design projects. Here’s why:

– Gives design form. There are a couple of different types of negative space: micro and macro. Micro negative space is the spacing between elements – like the white space between letters, paragraphs, and in between various elements. This white space gives your layout form and allows users to understand the context of the design. The macro negative space is the bigger elements – such as the background between the header and footer of the website. This, too, establishes a sense of form.

– Limits distractions. Negative space doesn’t command a lot of brainpower to process what’s happening. In fact, it eliminates distractions and allows the user to focus in on the elements that actually matter.

– Enhances brand image. There’s something sleek and sophisticated about negative space. Luxury brands often use simple, neutral designs as a way of putting the emphasis on the brand – not the website. Other companies can benefit from applying these same principles.

4 Ways to Use Negative Space

For most web designers, it’s harder to design simple websites than complex ones. Every element counts, and there’s less room for error. Precision is key.

That being said, here are some specific ways you can use negative space to your advantage (along with some examples of what these techniques look like in practice).

– 1. Help Products Stand Out
The Stucchi website homepage is the perfect example of how negative space can be used to help products stand out and draw attention and focus to specific items. Notice how the products – which include couplers and valves – seem to float on the page. This clean design eliminates distractions that would otherwise compete for the users’ attention and minimize the overall impact.

– 2. Provide Depth and Texture
Negative space also can create depth and texture that’s hard to achieve in a typical web design format with busy backgrounds and lots of competing elements.

This Monster Bite Cookies design is a fantastic example. Notice how the bite out of each cookie is perfectly complemented by a clean background. As such, the user’s attention is immediately focused on the bite and the textures that surround it. The cookie feels like it’s popping off the page, as opposed to lifelessly resting.

– 3. Emphasize Detail
Apple has always done an excellent job of using negative space in its branding – across all mediums and product categories. The most recent example of this is the new iPhone XR product page.

This page shows that negative space doesn’t always have to be white and airy. Sometimes negative space can feel dark and mysterious. It’s also unique to note how the negative space combines with a parallax scrolling design that makes the images and text feel as if they’re floating in space.

– 4. Deliver Consistency
If there’s one example that we’re all overwhelmingly familiar with, it’s the Google homepage. While various elements of the page have changed over the years, there’s always been one constant: lots of negative space. This is one thing that sets Google apart from other search engines like Bing and Yahoo, which have overwhelming designs and ubiquitous distractions.

Simple Web Design is Better Web Design

As hard as it is for some to grasp, simple web design really is better. It’s also more challenging to accomplish. As you enhance your design skillset, take the time to embrace the power of negative space and the role it plays in modern design. It’s not something you can afford to ignore or suppress.