Negative space or whitespace is the term for the empty space that appears in a design. Almost invariably, designers are taught that negative space is a good thing. It serves the function of directing the eye to important content, it reduces clutter that might otherwise detract from the important messages or features of the design and it is generally considered to be more aesthetically pleasing to look at.

There is another school of thought that states that this is boring, that it doesn’t grab the attention of the viewer and is a waste of space that could be used to promote more features of the product or service that are already being discussed. Proponents of this tend to be designers who like to adhere to a more ‘maximalist’ style of design and some clients who have invested heavily in advertising space and who want to get their money’s worth.

So who’s right? The clients who don’t know anything about design or the designers who don’t know anything about certain target markets? Well on this one it tends to be the client that is right, because they know what their target markets are looking for. However, as with all debates as to what is best in design the most accurate answer is ‘it depends’.

In this case it depends on the value of the product being sold and the financial means and aspirations of the customer. Research carried out by anthropologist Dimitri Mortelmans of the University of Antwerp suggests that minimalist design implies a higher value product that speaks for itself while design exhibiting ‘horror vacui’, or a ‘fear of emptiness’ implies a lower value product.

In this way, a busier ad could be the exact sort of thing to generate interest in used car dealerships, last minute flights, clothes sales or bingo halls. On the other hand, if you want to promote speciality drinks, luxury apartments, haute couture fashion or high end sound systems then making that additional investment in photography and presenting it in a minimalist manner may be the best way to do it.

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