Design Principles: Negative Space

Negative space is not as negative as it sounds!

What it is exactly?

Remember when someone told you about the arrow in the FedEx logo? 

You didn’t focus on it in the first place, but when you notice its unobtrusive existence — you can’t unseen it. This is what the negative space is. Since then, we bet you’ve started looking for other clever examples of negative space usage!

Hidden message in FedEx logo — did you notice it before? FedEx logo by Lindon Leader. Above Image: by Kasia / Buttercrumble

Hidden message in FedEx logo — did you notice it before? FedEx logo by Lindon Leader. Above Image: by Kasia / Buttercrumble


The use of negative space is a key element of artistic composition. The Japanese word “ma” is sometimes used for this concept, for example in garden design.

In a two-tone, black-and-white image, a subject is normally depicted in black and the space around it is left blank (white), thereby forming a silhouette of the subject. Reversing the tones so that the space around the subject is printed black and the subject itself is left blank, however, causes the negative space to be apparent as it forms shapes around the subject. This is called figure-ground reversal.
— Wikipedia's Explanation

Interesting fact: white looks bigger on black, than black on white! That’s why when designing logo, sometimes we have to make the white version slightly thinner.

Those small squares are exactly the same size, but white one looks like it’s been pushing out. Above Image: by Kasia / Buttercrumble

Those small squares are exactly the same size, but white one looks like it’s been pushing out. Above Image: by Kasia / Buttercrumble

What do we need negative space for and how can we use it in our brand?

First of all, to make an impact! We believe that you and your brand want to be noticed, that’s why you need an intelligent and interesting visual presence. When you use it in a logo or a poster, it’s like a hidden message for the viewer, noticing it feels rewarding. You can be sure that a logo that gives the audience this kind of excitement will stay in their memory for longer.

What about negative space in layout?

Negative space has a big impact on the layout design. You don’t have to know any theory to be disturbed by a bad layout. What can we describe as a bad layout? Mostly, the poor usage of the negative space. For example, when the text is too close to the picture, it’s difficult to decide where our attention should go first. Alternatively, there are legibility issues when there is not enough space between the text lines.

Of course, you can break the rules, as long as you master it first. However, it takes design skill to ensure legibility and unusual impact (simultaneously).

Above Image: by Kasia / Buttercrumble

Above Image: by Kasia / Buttercrumble

What are your thoughts about the negative space?

Can you notice the difference between the “negative” negative space and the “positive” negative space? If you have any doubts, we’re always happy to support! Just leave a comment below.


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