Understanding The Concept of Positive and Negative in Website Design

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  • January 02, 2014

We are taught various terms while attaining design education; however most of these are just words that we hear without understanding what significance they actually have.

Such terms and concepts usually fade without any traces from our memory. Today we are attempting to reinforce one such concept, which is negative space.

We will start with understanding what negative space actually is. In web design the space is of two types – negative and positive. In positive space every element of your website is included, like content, images, navigation etc, while negative space refers to empty space round content which keeps the elements separated and helps in structuring the way users interact with content placed in positive space.

Negative space can be further classified in two type, macro and micro. Space which is left empty between small design elements, like paragraphs, words and even letters is called micro negative space. On the other hand, space between core and larger design elements, like header, footer, is known as macro negative space.

Micro negative space

Determining the significance of micro negative space by its size will be a mistake. Also known as white space, micro negative space left between paragraphs of test can play a crucial role in enhancing the readability of your site, as well as making it easier for users to scan and comprehend the content.

Ideally the negative space you plan to leave between text blocks should be tight. It does not mean crowded, but tight here refers to an open and aesthetically balanced appearance. This includes space left between paragraphs and headers, height of lines in a paragraph and keeping the space between lines appropriate, not under or overdone.

This task might seem easy but it is certainly not, as making adjustments in micro negative space, while deciding the padding and margins is nothing less than an art, which is modified with every individual site.

Macro negative space

Now coming to macro negative space, it is an aspect requiring complete attention. Generally headers are cluttered with anything that can be possibly fitted in it, as this is the first thing visitors of your site will tend to see. However, keeping the area uncluttered by placing only a few important elements can make it easier for users to understand where they currently are and which link they need to access.

Similar to headers, sidebars and footers are also cluttered with information without realizing that you need to leave enough white space in and around these elements. This can help in making our content appear more purposeful. By letting the page to breathe with enough white space designed in a well-planned way, you can let the important parts of your content, like calls to action stand out without being overshadowed by sidebars placed too near.

Importance of negative space

Usability of your site is affected considerably how you use negative space. Primary aim behind giving so much emphasis on negative space is to ensure that your users are able to read the content comfortably, while at the same time conveniently find the information or links they might be looking for. Clutter can prove to be a major hurdle in this task. Clients generally demand that the entire page be covered with stuff and then blame designers for making the page look so unappealing and uncluttered, further making it difficult for users to navigate through the site.

This is the point where using our persuasion powers and trusting our capability and design sensibility becomes important. Being a designer, it is your duty to make your clients and other people understand the significance of negative space and how their choice of content can have an impact on their site. The benefits of doing this are limited to avoiding wastage of money or screen space. However, it is crucial in making sure that the information you wish to share on screen with users is clearly visible and stands out in professional and clean setting.

Remember, giving importance to negative space should not mean that you sacrifice other important elements. Everything of significance can be included in site, provided you leave enough space to breathe. Users will scroll through your entire site and that is what you expect them to do. This is possible when the content you provide, especially on front page, is chosen wisely. Avoid giving too many information or option on initial page. Rather than attracting users, it can leave them confused by making it difficult for them to decide which page they want to visit next.

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