Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Spaces Between

The other night I was watching Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations.” It is a fascinating show as he explores various cultures through their food and past times. In this episode he was in Japan and was talking to a person who did traditional Japanese flower arranging – Ikebana. One of the things this flower arranger said was, “It is not about the flowers and stems but the spaces between.”

That one line stood out to me because as designers it is not about always about the positive space (the drawing or the lines) it is also about the negative space (the places where the paper shows through). A good example of this is the FedEx logo. Everyone can see the blue and orange but most people miss the arrow that is made from the E and X. Once you see it though you can’t miss it. It is one of the reasons this logo works so well.

It is also not about how much we can fit on a page. But putting only what is needed and letting the white space enhance it. Working in the financial industry I have found that financial people like to cram every bit of information they can on a page in a font that is so tiny you need a magnify-glass to read it. Take a look at the printed version of the Wall Street Journal to see what I mean.

Often times clients want to fit as much as they can on a page or in a document. One of our jobs is to try to weed out what is essential to their message and make that stand out. Good use of white space can make your message stand out and be more memorable because it is not cluttered up and the mind doesn’t have to work to read the meassage. The white space enhances the text and images. Sometimes we have too much white space for what we need and the design looses it’s meaning and impact other times we don’t have not enough. Finding the balance is the key.

As in ikebana the organic shapes around the flowers are as important as the flowers and stems themselves. They each play off each other and enhance one another. The white space, or negative space, gives the arrangement dimension, while the flowers and stems, or positive space, give you context.

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