The Webster-Merriam dictionary defines “space” as “a boundless three-dimensional extent in which objects and events occur and have relative position and direction.” In the context of document design (hard copy, electronic file, web based, video), space is an area activated by visual elements. A visual element such as a shape or a line can be considered space.


Positive Space

Positive space refers to the shapes of objects. It usually refers to anything that is considered the main focus of the page. Anything else in the design is considered negative space or white space.

Positive space can be perceived as two-dimensional or three-dimensional.

Two dimensional images

Two-dimensional images are perceived as flat, without depth or volume. In graphic design, this is often achieved by placing images next to one another or making all images one size.

Three dimensional images

Three-dimensional images can be perceived as having depth or volume. In graphic design, this is often achieved by over lapping images of various sizes or using other elements in combination such as lines, proportion, grounding, color, and orientation to achieve a three-dimensional effect.

White space

White space is just as important as objects on a page. Margins are white space (or negative space) that makes text more readable. White space is used to organize text, as in an outline, for example. The amount of space before an item in an outline designates its position in the hierarchy of information. Good use of leading, or the space between lines, promotes readability, especially on a computer screen.

An example of poor use of white space in a document

White space directs the eye to objects on the page. It is hard to distinguish objects on a crowded page. The more space around an object, the easier it is to notice an object. The web page below is quite busy, but it is rescued from being cluttered because enough white space is used to separate the various objects (the grid organization helps too).

White space also provides relief for the eyes, giving them a place to rest. Strategically filled space can allow the mind to pause and better absorb meaning.

The white space on this page and outlined (bounded) area makes a very busy design easier for the eye to process