The Most Overlooked Aspect of Design

Jul 1, 2014 | Graphic Design

Mysterious as it may seem, this concept is not a conundrum waiting to be unveiled. You don’t need to follow a perplexing formula to figure it out, or 38 years of experience to reach the pinnacle of understanding it.

The most overlooked aspect of design almost always comes down to one thing: visual space. Also known as white space, margins, or even negative space, this can take on a number of appearances. Sometimes it’s in shapes and graphics, other times between text lines and characters.

Without proper training and experience, designers usually try to squeeze in as much flare, content, and “wow factor” as possible, regardless of the big picture. You can’t really blame them, either—we live in a world teeming with messages and designs. Competitive marketing is everywhere, always vying for the eye of the consumer. The knee-jerk reaction may be to pack every square inch of a design with content, leaving no “empty” space to spare.

But that’s not the way it should be. Visual space is almost always necessary to produce clean and dynamic designs. Even if you’re going for an artsy or edgy look, consider limiting the busyness or confusion of the overall image by prioritizing visual space. The viewer must be able to determine the focus of the design immediately, even if it has several layers. If each component is competing for the lead role, the result will be clutter and disorganization.

For the past few years, I’ve been hired to design a 60-page magazine for a large annual event. The piece includes many pages of ads from local businesses. These range from full spreads to the size of business cards, either color or grayscale. I’m always interested to see the kinds of ads that funnel in. Some are very professional and sharp, while others are just scanned images of old newspaper ads. Those that use tasteful visual space always contrast the ones that cram lots of photos and large text into a small space. To me, this perfectly illustrates the battle for the viewer’s attention via visual space.

Rather than writing more on this topic, I’d like to conclude this article with a few visual examples.

Visual space examples

What’s your opinion? Art and graphic design are widely debated in the marketing world—we would love to hear your input!

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