Easily one of the most misunderstood aspects of layout design is White Space (also known as Negative Space). The term refers to the parts of a composition left unmarked by text and graphics — including margins, gutters and space between lines of type.

When used effectively, space can aid the hierarchy of information, accentuate elements, or simply give the eyes a break. White space needn’t actually be white, it can be any colour, as long as we subconsciously see it as the background.

Negative space in use on the cover of a newspaper

The beautifully designed French newspaper Libération bucks the trend in its field, often making great use of space. Here it is used to aid the composition, but also to reinforce the idea of isolation.

A common misconception of space on a page is that of emptiness needing to filled with something. Anything. Filling in gaps is not the role of a designer — using that space in an effective manner is.

Space for advertising

Space in newspapers is expensive — complex grids are employed to get as much data in the layouts as possible, while readability is maintained by clever use of columns, margins and gutters within this grid.

a double page spread from a newspaper layout, with contrasting space-heavy advertisment

Effective newspaper advertising. The newspaper layout dictates that space is a premium, while the advert pads itself generously with it, drawing the eye through contrast.

Because of the cost, it must be extremely tempting for newspaper advertisers to cram as much as they can in their allotted space. The savvy client will note that as the newspaper itself is content heavy, space is a novelty in the publication, and a sudden appearance of this element will immediately draw the eye.

A page full of information and with little white space, can appear overly busy and tiring for the reader. This kind of cluttered design actually risks alienating an audience with their first glance.

Apple watch advertisment with extensive use of negative space

This double page advertisement for Apple Watch is a good example of upmarket design values. It combines an understated text and layout treatment with powerful high–quality photography. It communicates honesty and sophistication.

Discerning use of white space can imply elegance and exclusivity. For example, take a look at the advertising of upmarket brands. Notice the minimal use of text, and abundance of space. A spacious layout communicates absolute confidence in the product or service.

Header Image: Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash.