What Is Negative Space?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn about negative space and why it's useful in graphic and UX design. Find out where the term comes from, why it's important for designers, and how you can use it.

[Featured Image] A UX designer hand draws wireframes with colored markers on sheets of paper at a desk.

In graphic design, negative space refers to the area surrounding the primary objects (or positive space) in a graphic representation. Negative space has many uses in graphic design, and knowing more about it offers a variety of benefits.  

Where does the term negative space come from?

The term negative space originates from photography. If you think of a familiar photo, the positive space includes the object or objects that make up the focal point of your photo, and the negative space includes all of the space around the focal point. 

The importance of negative space in graphic design

To create eye-catching designs, graphic artists make use of multiple design principles, one of which is negative space or white space. This design tool plays an important role in the readability, arrangement, balance, and tone of a graphic representation. In other words, it can help make the design more attractive, and the viewing or reading experience more pleasant.

How to use negative space in graphic design

Graphic designers use negative space in a variety of ways. It can help:

  • Improve readability. The use of negative space to break up blocks of text helps improve the readability of web pages, infographics, product labels, and more.

  • Reduce reading time. Negative space contributes to visual hierarchy, a principle used to arrange design elements based on importance to the viewer. Surrounding important elements like headers with negative space helps readers find the information they need quickly. 

  • Add balance. Negative space can be used to create balance in graphic design. Balance helps hold a reader's attention by breaking up text, and it can help keep a viewer or reader calm by reducing clutter on a page. 

  • Set tone. The tone of a graphic design can change based on the use of negative space. For instance, a designer creating a page displaying luxury jewelry might use a good portion of negative space to elicit a minimalist tone. A designer wanting to impart a sense of mystery might use negative space to hide an image or a secret message on a page. 

Getting started with Coursera

Learn more about design from the professionals at Google in the UX Design Professional Certificate on Coursera. You'll learn about the user experience (UX) design process, build a foundation in UX research, and work on three UX design projects you can add to a professional portfolio. When you're finished with the course, you'll have a certificate from Google to share.

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