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Logo Design: How to Use Negative Space to Your Advantage

Estimated reading time: 4 mins

Coming up with the perfect logo design is key to accurately representing your brand. It’s often the first interaction people have with your company, and it sets the stage for their perceptions. Think of your logo like a first impression: A good one can go a long way, and a bad one can be off-putting, or worse, offensive. Negative space is an overlooked but valuable tool that you can implement to help make even more impressions, even when you’re working with a small amount of space. In fact, a well-crafted negative space logo is the perfect choice for companies who want to cram in multiple impressions when space is limited.

What is Negative Space?

At its core, negative space is the space that sits in between certain elements of your design. It’s the background color or the space that’s left behind after you’ve added certain letters or components. To put it another way, negative space becomes evident when the space around the subject — such as a font or symbol — forms its own interesting or relevant shape. Visual artists have long used negative space as a tool for creative expression, especially in mediums like printmaking.

A well-designed logo should use this leftover space to create a recognizable form that says something about the brand. One of the most oft-cited examples of negative space used creatively is the arrow that appears between the “E” and the “X” in the FedEx logo. The Girl Scouts of America also use negative space in their iconic logo to create the appearance of faces, and the World Wildlife Fund’s famous panda is made almost entirely with negative space. 

Why It’s Useful to Designers

The primary reason to create a logo with well-used negative space is so that you can create extra meaning. For example, in the FedEx logo, the arrow is meant to indicate that the brand delivers with speed and accuracy. And, of course, the primary design — especially the fact that it includes the company’s name — helps consumers get acquainted with the company and ensures that they won’t forget its name. In short, logos that use negative space often leave a more lasting impression on the consumer.

Here’s another way to look at it: typically, you only have around 400 square pixels to create the perfect logo, and you’ve got to cram a lot of meaning into that little space. If you can find a clever way to weave in an extra message, then you can be sure that consumers will take away more from those few pixels. But don’t let these famous logos intimidate you. There are all sorts of subtle ways that you can indicate to a user — through negative space, colors, and font choices — certain facets of your brand image.

How to Take Advantage of Negative Space

Designer’s block is as real as writer’s block, but designers don’t talk about it as much. If you’re struggling with ways to come up with a crafty negative space logo for a particular client, or if you’re just looking for some simple ways to ease into your first complex logo design, you can reference these handy tips.

  • Take A Closer Look — Have you ever heard the expression “drawing is 90 percent looking and 10 percent drawing?” That rule applies with logo design, too. If you’re having trouble envisioning a negative space design within the graphics at hand, take some time to closely look at the components and learn whether there’s a missed opportunity. Decompress letters and words into simple shapes and lines to help you visualize ways to work in a double meaning.
  • Go OldSchool — One of the simplest ways you can open up the mind to new design possibilities is to make a physical mockup of the design. Using your trusty X-Acto knife and some cardstock, you’ll be able to create somewhat of a puzzle with the physical pieces so you can move them around. You may even want to consider printing your logo on adhesive labels so that you can create semi-permanent iterations that won’t slip and slide around your workspace or product.
  • Switch Things Up — If the logo at hand has a more abstract design without wording, see if there are ways to integrate letters or full branding into the graphic. Letters are a logo designer’s best friend, especially when it comes to negative space. It doesn’t matter if you use a single letter or several, adding text to the logo — even if it’s just a subtle addition, or if the letter is the negative space itself — will help you visualize new shapes.
  • Delve into the Brand Story — We don’t often think of graphic design as a research-heavy field, but the best designers know that weaving a company’s brand story into a logo is a really impressive skill. Take the Starbucks logo, for example. The little green and white mermaid who’s ubiquitous now was added to the coffeehouse logo in 1971 to complement the brand’s name, which was inspired by the book “Moby Dick.” The logo is an interpretation of the siren from the same literary tale and is meant to signify Starbucks’ place in the seafaring community of Seattle.
  • Don’t Get Attached to Positive Space — Good designers should take a page out of the architect’s handbook: don’t get too attached to blueprints. When you’re mocking up your design and playing with different elements, think of every single component as a placeholder in the final design. In other words, don’t be afraid to cut things. How will this help you in your quest for a gorgeous negative space logo? When you’re cutting elements — particularly positive space components — you’ll open up new windows for negative space in the process.
 

About the author /


Simon is a creative and passionate business leader dedicated to having fun in the pursuit of high performance and personal development. He is co-founder of Applied Change, a Business Change consultancy based in the UK. Simon is also an Ambassador for Gloucestershire business. Simon is an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Professional Development.

5 Comments

  1. Damir Radovic

    You said it, negative space is often overlooked, but when the customer notices it… it’s a game changer 🙂

     
    • Simon

      Agree! I think it’s old fashioned thinking to fill space. It’s true for many things in life!

       
  2. Damir Radovic

    I wouldn’t even call it old-fashioned, just lazy thinking 🙂 There was a one for… I think safari Africa. With elephant and between his legs is the shape of Africa. I was mesmerized!

     
    • Simon

      Ah yes – this one? Extremely clever. Thanks for pointing this out!

      Safari Africa

       
  3. Damir Radovic

    That’s the one! I’m also a tattoo lover ( although I just have two for now), and the next one is going to be something with negative space most definitely 🙂

     

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