“Negative space is like the air you breathe: you won’t really notice it until it’s gone.”
Negative space is the design technique of purposefully leaving some parts of your web design empty. In web design, negative space is often used to create focal points, define page layout, and create a sense of balance and order.
What’s Negative Space?
Negative space is the area of a design not occupied by any element. It’s the space between and around objects. In some cases, people use it to create a design element of its own.
How Is Negative Space Used in Web Design?
There are two types of negative space: active and passive.
Active negative: Active negative spaces are more intentional and purposeful. They are used to create focal points, put emphasis, and attract attention.
Active spaces provide guides for the viewer’s eyes to follow throughout the design page.
Passive negative: Passive negative spaces are often overlooked, but they’re just as important as active ones. They act as buffers between items on your site or within your layout. They also add balance and order to a design, creating a more pleasant user experience.
Negative Space Vs. Positive Space
Negative space isn’t the opposite of a positive space. They’re two separate entities that work together to create a design. Negative space is the empty space around and between objects, while positive space is the objects themselves.
Negative space cannot exist without a positive space, and positive space cannot exist without a negative space. They’re two halves of the same whole.
Reason For Negative Space In Web Design
Web designers use negative space to achieve the following:
- Eyeball Scan: When people look at a web page, their eyes naturally move around the screen, scanning the content from top to bottom and left to right. Negative space lets you control where people’s eyes go and how they move around the page.
- Clarity: Negative space can help you clarify a page’s layout, making it easier for people to understand where they are and what they need to do. It can help you distinguish different elements so they are more easily recognized.
- Balance: Negative space is often used to create a sense of balance within a design. When all elements have well-adjusted spaces in between them, it gives the impression of order and harmony.
- Contrast: You can use negative space to highlight critical elements on a page. If you have two objects with contrasting colours or shapes, the blank space between them helps expose these differences and draws attention to the focal point.
- Visual Aesthetics: Negative space can add a level of sophistication and elegance to a design. It can make a page look more polished and professional when used correctly.
- High Grade: There is no doubt that negative space can create an air of high grade. Using cleverly placed empty spaces, you can make a design look more expensive and luxurious.
Big (Macro) and Small (Micro) Negative Spaces
Where and how you use negative space will depend on the role that you want it to play.
There are two ways to use negative space: large and small:
Large Element Blank (Macro Negative Spaces)
Using large blank spaces between elements will give your design a more elegant and finished look.
Web designers use it to blank two large elements, mainly:
- Your main content
- Text column
- Separate elements
Margin, border, and edge all refer to the area around a design element. They’re the space between an object and the neighbouring elements.
Using an equal margin on all sides is good for negative space. It makes your design symmetrical and balanced.
Designers use this type of negative space to affect users’ visual flow and control their attention to specific areas. Whether it’s to direct the user’s eye away from a distracting element or create separation between two objects, it’s a powerful way to control how someone experiences your design.
A general rule of thumb is that the greater the distance of the space between two objects, the greater the emphasis. However, you might want to note that too much white space violates the Gestalt principle of proximity.
According to this principle, elements close to one another are perceived as related. The more sparse they’re, the more disconnected they appear, so use this type of negative space sparingly.
Here’re real-time examples of websites that are using negative space to induce user interaction:
The perfect example of a company that’s perfected the art of using large negative spaces is Google. From their minimal homepage to the sparsity of their search results pages, they know how to use whitespace to control the user’s attention.
They’re the granddaddy of negative spaces, and they sure know how to use it to guide users to actionable areas of their pages (Gmail, Search Bar, Images, etc.). The process is so seamless and straightforward, you hardly even notice it’s happening.
On opening their homepage, your eye is immediately drawn to the search bar and input field. There’s a lot of space around it, so it sticks out even more.
The text is so straightforward, with no distracting borders or other distractions. Even the logo is small and non-intrusive. They only give you what you need to know, nothing else.
When you start typing into the search bar, notice how everything adjusts around it to accommodate your query without any jarring animations or effects. The search results take up the entire page with no wasted space. Again, the focus is on the user and the task at hand.
Google’s mastery of negative space makes for a frictionless experience that doesn’t distract from their core product: search.
Dropbox is another excellent example of a company that uses negative space to its advantage. They’ve got a straightforward and clean homepage that uses a lot of white space to their advantage.
The most noticeable use of negative space on the page is between the main header and the body text. There’s a lot of breathing room, which helps the user focus on what the company is saying.
There’s also a lot of negative space between the different elements on the page, which gives it a more polished look. That makes it easier for the user to scan and understand what’s going on.
Again, like Google, Dropbox uses negative space to control users’ attention and keep them focused on the task at hand.
Now, let’s take a look at Facebook. As you can see, they use a lot of negative space to separate their different sections.
The main header is separated from the body text by a large amount of negative space, which helps the user focus on what Facebook is trying to say.
The sidebar, which houses all of Facebook’s navigational elements, is separated from the main content. Again, this helps the user focus on what they want to accomplish.
By using negative space to separate different elements on their homepage, Facebook has made it simple for the user to scan through and quickly understand what they’re about.
Small Element Blank Space (Micro Negative Space)
Depending on the purpose and function of your site, you might be able to get away with using a little bit of negative space. Sometimes, it’s less about the amount and more about how that negative space is used.
If there’s text or an image that could benefit from a bit of breathing room, try implementing some “empty” space around them.
Usually, web designers use small element blank space on small or secondary elements of larger elements, such as:
- Line spacing
Web designers usually use small elements to improve their website’s clarity, usability, and readability. When used correctly, small element blank space can improve the aesthetics of your website while also helping the user focus on what’s important.
Here’s a simple suggestion: the 1.5px line spacing in the English language is considered the most perfect. It offers the perfect balance between white space and text, allowing for faster reading while not looking too empty.
Web designers can also use small element space to tell users about the relationship between buttons and links.
Here’s a real-time example of sites that are using small elements blank space:
On Dribble, they use a lot of white space between the small elements on their site. The text boxes, the thumbnails, and photos are separated with small element blank spaces.
It helps users focus on what they’re looking at, making it easy for them to scan through the page.
The use of small element blank space also gives the site a cleaner look, which helps to reinforce Dribbble’s brand identity.
Twitter uses small element blank space extensively on their homepage. As you can see, the main header is separated from the body text by a small amount of negative space.
The sidebar, which houses all of Twitter’s navigational elements, is separated from the main content. Again, this helps the user focus on what they want to accomplish.
By using small element blank space to separate different elements on their homepage, Twitter has made it simple for users to scan and quickly understand different sections of their site.
The more white space a website has, the more minimalist it feels.
Minimalism is a popular design trend at the moment, and for a good reason. A well-executed minimalist design can be beautiful, elegant, and incredibly practical.
One of the tenets of minimalism is that less is more. By using negative space to its fullest potential, you can create a minimalist website that’s both beautiful and easy to use.
Minimalism removes clutter any other type of visual distraction, allowing the user to focus on the most important elements of the design.
Without noise or distractions, the user can better understand the site’s purpose and function.
Here are a few examples of minimalist websites that use negative space to greater effect:
Femme Fatale is an excellent example of minimalist design. Femme Fatale uses negative space to reinforce its brand identity and communicate its message.
They’ve reduced their homepage to only essential elements, exemplifying the tenets of minimalism.
By using negative space, Femme Fatale has been able to simplify its website and quickly communicate its message.
Here’s another example of a minimalist design that utilizes negative space to greater effect.
Like Femme Fatale, Tumblr uses negative space to focus on what they want their users to do.
Tumblr’s homepage is very streamlined and easy to use. Their minimalist design also helps emphasize their brand identity, creating a beautiful, simple layout.
Studio Rotate is an excellent example of how negative space can be used to create a beautiful, minimalist website.
They have removed all unnecessary elements from their homepage, leaving a sleek, simple design.
Not only does this layout look great, but it’s also very functional. The use of negative space allows users to focus on important elements.
By looking at Studio Rotate’s homepage, you can quickly understand what they do and how to contact them.
That’s another example of a minimalist design that uses negative space to great effect.
Mowellens has reduced their homepage to simple elements, with the most important ones emphasized by small element blank space.
By using negative space, Mowellens has created a website that’s both beautiful and easy to use.
They’ve managed to strip away all the unnecessary elements, leaving a sleek, functional design.
How to Use Negative Space Right
Negative space isn’t just about leaving random empty spaces on your page. It’s about understanding how to leverage it to create a well-organized, easy-to-use website.
When used correctly, negative space can help simplify your design, reinforce your brand identity, and communicate your message to the user.
If you’re not sure how to use negative space in your web design, here are a few tips:
Use Negative space to Break Up Your Page
You can use negative space is to break up your page.
By separating different elements with small amounts of white space, you can help the users navigate your website.
For example, if you place a large block of text on your page, try adding some negative space above or below to break up the page. This will make the white space between different elements more apparent to the user.
A few rules do apply:
- Use equal spacing between elements of the same composition. You don’t want to use negative space in a way that disrupts the flow of your design.
- If you’re using equal spacing between different elements, ensure they have the same alignment. If one element is left-aligned and another is right-aligned, it will cause a distraction for your user.
- We suggest you use negative space combined with other design elements for the best results.
When a website has too much content and too little breathing space, it becomes hard for visitors to focus on the main content.
Negative space gives visitors more time to absorb the information they see before moving on to the next content block.
Prioritize Content Readability and Comprehension
Negative space can also be used to prioritize content and help users understand what’s most important.
You can do this by using negative space to visually separate different types of content or by using it to highlight critical elements on your page.
When used correctly, negative space can be a powerful tool for visual communication. Just remember to use it sparingly and only when it’s necessary.
Learn to properly use space between words, lines, and letters to create beautiful typography.
When you’re trying to decide how much negative space your page needs, ask yourself if it’s helping or hurting its overall design.
It’s not as simple as adding as much as possible. Negative space should be treated with care, so don’t be afraid to experiment until you find the right balance.
Create Visual Hierarchy
Negative spacing is more than just space. It can also be used to create a visual hierarchy on your page.
In other words, you can use the negative spacing between certain elements to highlight one element over another. You can then prioritize different types of content using colour or bold text.
For example, using a slightly larger spacing between the title and body text will draw more attention to the title.
The same goes for other elements on your page. You can use negative space to make it easier for users to find what they’re looking for.
Clarify Relationships and Groupings
One of the main purposes of negative space is to help clarify relationships and groupings between different elements on your page.
For example, if you have many links scattered around your page, you can use negative spacing to rearrange them based on the relationship they have with one another.
The same goes for other types of content. You can use negative space to help the user understand the hierarchy of your page and how different elements are related.
Using the Gestalt principle, you can use negative spacing to emphasize the proximity of related items.
Although you may want to maximize spacing, you don’t want to overdo it. When something is too far apart from another element, it creates unnecessary tension that’s not user-friendly.
Negative Space and Composition
You can use negative space to create a composition on your page.
In other words, the way you arrange different elements on your page plays an important role in how users perceive its design.
Although it may seem counterintuitive, by forcing certain elements closer together, you’re actually making them stand out more. Also, by maximizing spacing between elements, you’re giving the user more breathing room.
Finding the Right Balance Between Negative and Positive Space
In the end, it all comes down to finding the right balance. Too much negative space and your page will look boring and uninviting. Too little, and it’ll be cluttered and confusing.
Here are a few pointers to help you out:
- If you’re looking to create a visually appealing site, then be sure to use equal parts negative and positive space.
- If you’re looking to create a user-friendly site, then be sure to maximize spacing between different elements on your page.
- If you’re looking for both, make sure the amount of negative space you use doesn’t overpower or distract from the content.
- If you plan to create a more overpowering or in-your-face atmosphere, it would be best to opt for more positive spacing. In other words, the more you space out objects, the more attention they’ll grab.
Although it may seem difficult at first, mastering the art of using negative space is easier than it seems. Just remember to treat it with care and use it sparingly. It can make a big difference in the overall design of your page.
Just remember that you can’t have too much or too little spacing. If it feels right, then stick with it!
Decluttering a Text Heavy Website
So you’ve been working on a text-heavy website for weeks now, and it’s finally ready to go.
But as you’re uploading the files, you realize that the design is so cluttered that users will have a hard time finding what they want!
Here’s a perfect example of a website with too much positive space.
So, how do you fix this?
If your site features a lot of text, the answer is simple. Just add a little bit more negative space to your website!
Create a more robust visual hierarchy between different elements on your site. Use varying padding and line heights to separate titles from body text, links from pictures, etc.
You could also play around with font weights and contrasts to make certain elements stand out more. That will make it easier for users to find what they’re looking for and understand your site’s content.
It would also help eliminate unnecessary tabs, sidebars, and other elements that aren’t directly related to the main content. That will declutter your design and make it easier for users to focus on what’s important.
How Not to Use Negative Space
Although there are plenty of ways you can use negative space on your website, here are a few things to avoid:
Don’t use too much of it: Negative space is meant to separate and emphasize elements. If it’s all over the place, then you’re just wasting valuable screen real estate.
Don’t use it as a crutch: Negative space is meant to enhance users’ experience. Your design will look amateurish and unprofessional if you rely heavily on it.
Could you please not use it to cover up mistakes? If something’s not working, fix it. Don’t try to hide it with excessive negative space.
Don’t leave it to chance: Negative space isn’t just random blank space. It’s meant to create a sense of depth, perspective, and harmony within your design. If you don’t know what you’re doing, stick to more straightforward layouts that are easier to navigate.
How to Use Negative Space to Break Up Text
Adding more negative space to a text block can actually make it look stronger and more professional.
By increasing the space between letters, you’re creating a cleaner and more legible look. You’re also making it easier for users to focus on what they’re reading.
It also helps to mix long paragraphs with shorter ones, bolding the headline and adding lists in between the text to kill the monotony of digging through vast blocks of text.
Remember, adding negative space is a great way to break up text without making it look too sparse or unprofessional. As long as you use it in moderation, it can be a powerful tool for enhancing your website’s design.
How do You Explain the Point of Negative Space to a Client?
Not all clients have the capacity to understand why negative space is important.
It’s easy to show them examples of websites that use negative space as a design element, but this won’t really help them understand why it’s important.
To make this concept more accessible, try breaking it down into simple language. You could say things like: “We’re using negative space to focus the user’s attention on certain parts of the page.”
or “Negative space is what separates the different elements on the page and helps them to stand out more.”
You could even compare negative space to a box that separates and contains certain elements. Although you can’t see it, your audience will get the gist of what’s going on once you walk them through this analogy.
Start with the mock-up and prototypes
Show the client two versions of the site — one with and one without negative space.
If the first design is too crowded, you’ll need to find a middle ground where you can add enough negative space to make it look professional and user-friendly.
Remember, the more elements you have on your site (especially navigation-related), the larger the negative space should be.
The Gestalt principles are rules that help designers separate and organize information on their websites.
By sticking to these simple concepts, you should be able to use negative space without ruining details, distorting content, or making it look unprofessional.
The Gestalt Principle of Proximity
The Gestalt Principle of Proximity states that elements close to each other are usually perceived as related.
This is why you often see groupings of some aspects on a page — for example, the search toolbar on one side and the main menu on another.
Using negative space, you can use this principle to your advantage by grouping similar elements together on your website.
For example, if you’re designing an ecommerce site that sells books, you could group the books on one side of the page and the payment options on the other.
That will help create a sense of order and make it easier for your users to find what they’re looking for.
The Gestalt Principle of Similarity
The principle of similarity states that similar elements are usually perceived as being related.
You can use this principle to create visual harmony on your website by grouping similar elements together.
For example, if you have many images on your page, you could group them by subject matter or colour scheme. That should help create a more cohesive look and make navigating easier for your users.
The Gestalt Principle of Closure
The Gestalt principle of closure states that when we see an incomplete image, our brain will complete it to try and make sense of it.
This is why we often see images with missing parts (like the infamous “Arlington Pediatric Centre” logo) and why designers use negative space to create shapes and patterns.
You can use this principle to your advantage by using negative space to create shapes and patterns on your website.
For example, you could use it to create a logo or banner for your site. Not only will this help to make your site more visually appealing, but it will also help create a stronger brand identity.
The Gestalt Principle of Continuity
The principle of continuity states that we tend to perceive objects as being continuous and orderly.
This is why designers often use lines and curves to create smooth transitions between different elements on the page.
You can use this principle to your advantage by using leading lines in your design.
For example, you could use a curve to point the user’s attention towards your website’s specific element or feature.
Be careful not to go overboard, however — too many leading lines can make your site look cluttered, and it won’t be as easy for users to find what they’re looking for.
The Gestalt Principle of “Figure/Ground”
The principle of figure/ground states that objects can be seen as either a figure or a background, but not both simultaneously.
The user can only focus on one thing at a time – the object or the background (negative space).
Naturally, our eyes are intuitively drawn to the object, not the background. But considering the effect that negative shapes have on positive space, your design process should factor the two as a whole.
Negative spaces happen organically. Negative spaces happen organically. They are not premeditated, calculated moves to control how users’ eyes move around a design. They should be used sparingly so that when they do occur, they have maximum impact.
Web designers use negative space to achieve two main goals: creating visual harmony and guiding the user’s eye towards specific elements on the page.
The use of negative space can help simplify your design, reinforce your brand identity, and communicate your message to the user. By understanding how to use it correctly, you can create a well-organized, easy-to-use website that looks great too!