Embrace Your Negative Space

Ever wonder why, when you walk into an art gallery, there’s so much empty wall space and so little art?

It’s because of something called negative space (or, white space). This area around or between the main subject of a piece is a critical element of design.

From the exhibit, “Matisse: Life & Spirit,” at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

This applies to more than art galleries and interior design. You’ve seen it in graphic design as well; e.g.:

Print ad for the Nike AirMax 17.

The use of negative space is not arbitrary. It defines the focal point of a space or layout. Put another way: It tells the audience where to look.

Moreover, the use of negative space is based on an intuitive understanding that a person can only focus on one thing at a time. Throw a lot of things at the eye at once, and it all becomes a blur.

Ever seen a wall in a house that looks like this (below)? You don’t know where to look.

Too much information, visual or otherwise, and the eye/mind doesn’t know where to focus.

Negative space doesn’t just apply to design. It applies to messaging, too.

Stuffing in more and more features and benefits doesn’t make for a persuasive communication. You need to pick and choose. You need to consider what you don’t say. The “space between” matters.

William Faulkner famously said we must “kill our darlings.” What he meant by that is, we may fall in love with a particular word or turn of phrase — or bullet point/feature about our product — but we should ignore the instinct to force it in. The individual words and points don’t matter. What matters is the takeaway.

And that’s the thing: A lot of marketers get greedy when it comes to the takeaway. They want the audience to remember every detail they put into that social post or email or print ad or whatever.

It’s never going to happen.

Most audiences will read the headline, skim through the other content, and walk away remembering very little. But if your message is good, your audience will walk away remembering one thing. They’ll also walk away feeling something. So, the questions to answer are:

  • What will that one thing be?
  • How should they feel at the end?
  • What do you need to say/show, and not say/show, to make that happen?

Remember that your audience is an active part of the process. Communication is a means of engagement, not an info dump. As the Greek philosopher Plutarch said, “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”

Create with that in mind. Don’t start with a list of things you want to pour into the audience’s head. Instead, start with the end, with the takeaway.

In short: Show your audience where to focus.

#     #     #

How can we help you?