Have you ever looked at a design, be it an advertisement or a website, and felt repulsed? Like you can’t keep looking at it because something about the design is pushing you away, making you feel an awkward tension, a dizzying overload of information or frustration because you can’t find what you’re looking for?
It’s probably because you are looking at a negligent of space.
What is Space?
In its most general definition, space is mass; it is height and width. Space also indicates depth and the location of objects; it creates the illusion of dimension.
How You Can Use Space to Enhance Your Designs
The element of space can be used in many ways such as to:
- set a mood
- emphasize by separation
- create depth
- bring balance (or imbalance)
- give the eye a resting place
Setting a Mood
Space can be used to create an impression of claustrophobia or a feeling of freedom. Depending on how close together other elements are in a design, the viewer can have feelings of tension (elements are too close) or ease (elements have a good amount of area around them). Tension can be particularly well illustrated when, say, a word or someone’s face is too close to or cut off by the edge of the canvas. It causes the viewer to want to see more, but be frustrated that she can’t. Sometimes this is the desired effect, but be conscious in your decision to place items close to the edges or borders of a design. Sometimes just a little bit of space between an object and the border creates tension, too!
Space can also be used to create a feeling of separation and loneliness. Look at the group of circles. Doesn’t that one look so sad all by itself? Poor circle. Imagine what a great use of space it would be if this were an ad to show the harm of inequality and all the circles clustered together were children of one type and they were excluding the circle who was different. Wouldn’t that be an effective use of space to set a mood? What other moods can space create?
Emphasizing with Space
Allowing enough space between various elements gives a design piece hierarchy; it makes certain elements more important and more distinct so as to give order and guide a viewer through the work.
If the header is too close to the body copy, it can blend in too much. If we add distance between headers and explanatory paragraphs, it makes the copy as a whole easier to scan because the headers stand out more. We are creating emphasis by separating one part from the others. The degree of that emphasis depends on how far away it is from other parts. In the Small Apprenticeships brochure above, Tara has separated the engineer’s name, age and title from the story about her and she also uses space to help us easily distinguish one paragraph from another.
Depth is created with space by layering objects and varying their size. Smaller objects are farther back and partially obscured by closer objects (notice that we don’t see the obscured ball as being only a partial ball!). Depth helps us to relate to the location of objects and is important when conveying the idea of a three dimensional object in a two dimensional medium; depth helps us understand an object’s size and mass. Depth in a 2D illustration creates the illusion that an object is real; it creates a tactile response.
Because space is mass and it has visual weight, it brings balance to a piece. This poster I designed for Orange Coast College feels balanced because the darker, heavier shape of the dancer is offset by the white space around it. Generally you’ll need more space to balance darker objects. Adding space in this way, to balance an object, creates an elegant, sophisticated feel in a piece.
A Resting Place
If there is too much going on in a design, the eye feels overwhelmed. Busyness confuses the viewer, because he or she doesn’t know where to look first or what is important. Don’t be afraid to add some space! It will give the design “breathing room,” and give the eyes a place to rest, to find relief from all the other elements in the piece.
Is Space Positive or Negative?
A quick word on positive and negative space, more of an explanation, really. Positive space is the area that is occupied by an object. Negative space would be the absence of an object. Negative space can imply the presence of an object and it can also create very interesting shapes. Thanks to Redsil, for pointing out this amazing collection of photos, deemed Type the Sky, by its creator, Lisa Rienermann. This is a perfect example of how negative space can create shape.
You can read more about the elements of design in the Real World Example series:
So how are you going to purposefully use space in your next design? Will you intentionally create a positive or a negative reaction for your viewers?