Less is more?
Arguably, you could both agree and disagree, depending on what the situation is pertaining to. If you’re talking about cheese on your pizza versus interest on your credit card, the answer is obvious (unless you’re lactose intolerant, which makes this case a lose-lose).
But what about design, is less truly more? What about elaborate, beautifully designed and intricate pieces? Are they worth less than their minimalistic and modern counterparts? The answer does not lie in the appearance or style of the piece, but in its effectiveness.
In some cases, less is in fact more, and in others – not so much. In these examples below, though, less is absolutely more. The following designs use negative space to their advantage, and the results are absolutely beautiful.
01. Be literal
This design used the number one to create a letter in the word one. They could have simply used only the word or only the number, but the combination of both adds a unique twist. The ‘N’ isn’t incredibly apparent at first, but once you realize it’s there, it makes it all the more great.
02. Frame an image
This illustration frames the focal point within a pen nib. The image itself shows a man writing underneath a light, but when you look more closely you see the way the shadows are composed creates the tip of the pen, tying it all together.
03. Cut things out
Rather than showing just the treat, just the dog, or a dog and the treat, this design showed both without showing both. The cut out in the bone represents the mouth of the dog, and the small dot represents the nose. It’s fun and playful, and is much more effective than having shown the full figure of the dog.
04. Combine elements
This image combines multiple elements within the composition, and everything flows from one thing to the next. The cloud of bats in the sky turns into an arm, and the fingers attached to the hand create the silhouette of a home.
05. Create contrast
Creating contrast between subject matter is an interesting approach no matter what you’re designing. In this graphic, skyscrapers are created in the negative space between trees in a forest. You get the contrast of city vs. nature, but can also see how the two work harmoniously together.
06. Use shapes
This beer brand uses shapes to dictate the flow of the verbiage on their bottles. The color stands out against the text, yet doesn’t detract from the unique typography. They work well together, and give each bottle its own unique personality.
07. Use your product
Yes, this is the same beer as the previous image, but it lends something important in its logo design. Rather than having a standard, bold caps ‘A’ as the logo, they utilized the shape of the product in the negative space. It’s subtle, yes, but makes it that much more unique.
08. Be subtle
Utilizing your negative space doesn’t have to be glaring and apparent to everyone. This logo uses a minimal amount of negative space, yet it is extremely effective. Only a snippet of the letters are invisible, and the section that is gone represents the water of the Nordic culture, giving it purpose.
09. Play with people’s minds
Visual illusions are a great way to use negative space. This poster contrasts an ice cream with a starry sky, yet when you look at it again you see the outline of two faces. Rather than just showing two actual faces, they become secondary, and lend more as a design element.
10. Bring in the culture
This logo brings in palm trees, contrasted against a warm, golden background. It speaks to the culture, and the fact that the trees are inside the bottle makes it more sleek and elegant.
11. Let it breathe
Whatever your focal point may be, give it some room. This poster has a figure right dead center, with a ton of black empty space around it. You focus on the figure and see its importance, and the arms coming from the black background around the figure are a nice, subtle touch.
12. Use layers
This illustration is two fold. At first glance, you see a skull, but when you examine the image more closely, you see machinery and smoke clouds on the interior. The two messages lend to each other, laying the industrial revolution alongside death, representing the damage it’s done to the environment as well as the lives lost in the early stages of the revolution.
13. Shift the focus
This poster uses the silhouette of a penguin to create layers of pattern. The top rows are penguins facing each other, and as you proceed down, they begin turning their backs and diving towards the bottom of the page. The numbers dwindle as you progress downward, representing the dangerous reality of their shrinking population.
14. Have a character
This logo for Boom! Burger uses its product as a mascot. We all know cows are spotted, and usually black and white. They played on this fact with the type, placing it inside the cow. If you look closely, you can even see that the tail acts as the exclamation point.
15. Actually use negative space
This poster design for a piano concert physically uses negative space as a design element. The intricate cut outs add a flare of prestige to the poster, and the fact that the cut outs are physical allows the environment the poster is in to work with the composition.
16. Push limits
This manual for the GTRC uses negative space in really creative ways. If you aren’t familiar with who the company is, it’s difficult to decipher the letters right away. The shapes (and lack thereof) work together to create an abstracted letterform.
17. Make it work
This illustration forces the concept to work, and in a brilliant way. A pine tree doesn’t have huge, jagged edges like a wolf’s teeth, and wolfs’ teeth aren’t pine needle thin. This piece, however, finds a great balance between the two, and your eye can easily shift back and forth between the silhouette of the tree and the figure of the wolf.
18. Flip it upside down
This poster serves double duty. On one end, it portrays one message, and on the other, something totally different. The graphics are made of the exact same shapes, but when looked at in a different perspective, completely change their form.
19. Use metaphors
This breast cancer poster uses the metaphor of a puzzle piece to represent the missing cure. The piece is also turned into a person, and the placement of the empty space is representative of what the cure could help.
20. Don’t fear stylization
Another take on a piano concert poster, but in a different approach. The keys of a piano are stylized within the sheet music, and the softness of the curves lends to the design much more than sharp rectangles would have. It appears to be flowing and elegant, representing the sound you would hear at the concert.
21. Be illustrative
Use negative space in your illustration to add in details. This book cover uses the negative space in the color of the book cover to create the figure, trees, and clouds. It melts into the background, and adds an interesting twist to the illustration.
22. Bring in your profession
This logo for a professional trainer brings in his silhoutte into the letterform. It still reads as an ‘A’, but the figure separating the ‘A’ makes the bottom read as an ‘M’ as well, tying in his first and last name.
23. Crop photos
This Target catalog crops their photos to relate to their logo shape. It gives a more interesting effect than if they’d just placed square or rectangular photos on the page, and it goes hand in hand with their branding.
24. Use it minimally
This poster uses negative space in a very minimalistic way. The background color fades into the waves and adds the details into the illustration. Instead of using another shade of blue and complicating the composition, the cream color acts as the separator and works in nicely.
25. Get creative with your cut outs
This book cover for the famous book Moby Dick uses the story to its advantage. The book is about a whale, so the whale’s tail is carved out of the letter ‘M’. It’s subtle enough to read as a letterform at first glance, but once you see the tail, it can’t be unseen.
26. Display your message
This poster for MTV is all about having your own voice, asking questions, and being vocal about your opinions. The speakers on their own would have conveyed that message, but adding in the profiles of people speaking really drives the point home in an unexpected way.
27. Tell a story
This poster is an homage to first time home buyers. You see the set of keys that you would receive, but in the space between the teeth of the two keys, you can see homes. Because of this you know that the keys are for houses, and its subtlety is done in just the right way.
28. Use letterforms
This brochure design for a zoo uses the letter ‘Z’ to house images of its animals. Rather than simply having standard square or rectangular photos, they’re cropped inside the letter, adding dimension to the brochure.
29. Be abstract
This poster for PETA uses ribbon like animal silhouettes to create a very interesting composition. At first glance, you may only see the cat, gorilla, and dog. When you look closely between the grey ribbons, you can see the outline of a bird, a rabbit, and another dog in the white space. They tied in a variety of animals while only truly showing a few.
30. Bring in other elements
The logo for Code Book brought in some of the elements of coding (the brackets) and utilized them to create letters. The ‘B’ is created in the negative space, and the ‘C’ can be seen in either the first or second bracket.
31. Get loose
This book cover is very loosely illustrated, and it works well. Most of the background is just shades of orange, and the typeface stands out nicely. Instead of using two L’s in ‘willow’, they use two paddles, tying in the theme of water.
32. Don’t overdo it
This wine bottle label truly lets the wine speak. It is small and cut to mimic the hills where the grapes that made it grew. The bottle acts as a design element, contrasting the label and allowing it to stand out against the background.
33. Be graphic
This movie poster is very graphic. You can see the outline of the UK in an aerial view, and peaking inside is the outline of the monster in the movie. As a whole, it’s only one image, but when you take a closer look, it’s much much morel
34. Choose sides
Similar to the poster above, this poster pits Batman against the Penguin. The outline of Batman’s profile creates the profile of the Penguin, and vice versa. You can’t have one without the other, and the two of them create a complete piece.
35. Work into the background
This illustration of a cat uses the background color to its advantage. The black melts into the black of the cat, and allows the orange and white to really pop.
36. Make it work
Even though the natural space between an elephant’s legs as it’s walking doesn’t form the shape of Africa, it doesn’t look out of place in this logo. Yes, you know the elephant isn’t shaped that way, but it works, and it ties the animal to its homeland.
37. Use texture
This image of a zebra is full of texture. The branches making up its stripes, the leaves coming from the branches, and the contrast of the sky. The rough edges of the top of the zebra’s head look like hair, and contrast the smooth underside nicely.
38. Use less than you think
This Wolf of Wall Street poster uses so little imagery it’s almost indecipherable. The two, sharp points make the lapel of a suit jacket, and the shape of their interior forms the outline of a tie. It’s incredibly simple and minimal, yet works incredibly effectively.
39. Reflect shapes
This graphic of a cat mimics the shape of its tail in the snake that wraps around it, and vice versa with the tail replicating the tail end of a snake. The two work together, neither detracting from the other, and help drive the line home.
40. Don’t use a solid label
This whiskey bottle uses its label very effectively. The name, Seven Seas, correlates with the ocean. The traditional ‘x marks the spot’ used in ocean lore graces the front of the bottle. Instead of having a solid label with a big black ‘x’ on it, they chose to cut it out of the label and reveal a skull underneath (tying even more so into ocean and pirate stories).
41. Fill your text
This graphic fills the text with part of the image in the background. Instead of using a solid color and losing valuable real estate, the texture is applied inside the confines of the letters, tying it all together.
42. Leave room
This poster has a lot of negative space at the top of it, which helps balance the busy-ness in the bottom. The text is small and has a good relationship with the graphic bars, allowing the two to work together and not detract from each other.
43. Have something to say
This graphic has a speech bubble inside of the empty space of the handcuff. It can have many messages depending on the viewer, and the simple flick of the tail on the bubble really changes the tone of what could have been.
44. Create something out of nothing
This letter illustration makes a cat out of letters. All you can see is the two eyes, which are the letter ‘c’, and your brain fills in the rest. The cat is literally brought out of a black space of nothing.
45. Use every opportunity
This coffee cup illustration seized the opportunity of displaying a secondary image in the steam. The profile of a woman’s face and head can be seen in the steam, and it gives the piece a much more feminine, sensual feel.
46. Use contrasting elements
This poster uses the contrast of a pair of lungs and trees. Lungs and trees don’t typically go together, but being used to promote natural breathing makes them go together like peas and carrots. Their natural shapes also go together in an unexpected way.
47. Sneak something in
This pattern of pigs sneaks in roses between them. It provides a nice contrast with the subject matter, and makes the pattern pretty and beautiful.
48. Play with text boxes
This magazine spread had some fun with their text boxes. Not only did they place them in unorthodox places on the page, but they shaped one into a ‘t’ to work with the -shirt text. The placement of the boxes leaves a lot of white on the page, and makes it look clean and modern.
49. Create confusion
This poster has you toggling back and forth, deciding whether or not it’s a person flailing their arms or a wrench coming down from the text. Your eye moves easily between the two, and the shapes work together in a way that doesn’t distract from either.
50. Don’t use too much detail
This Spock poster doesn’t use many details at all, yet you still know exactly what the figure is. The use of the popular hand symbol as the eye ensures that you know exactly who it is, and is a clever way to draw in fans.
After seeing all of these examples of design using negative space, it’s fair to say you sure can do a lot with a little. Negative space interacts with the brain in a way regular designs can’t, allowing you to piece together what is and isn’t there. A negatively designed image or logo really sets itself apart from the humdrum that can be regular, predictable design.