Genue Inc.
February 2, 2017

Negative Space Makes Positive Design

Genue image for Negative Space Blog

As designers, I’m sure most, if not all of you are familiar with the concept of negative space. Simply put, it is the “background,” the element or elements that are not necessarily the main focus of the image. So, if it’s not the main part of a design, is it really worth putting that much thought into? Sometimes it isn’t. However, when the situation calls for it, being smart about how you use negative space can really elevate a design to the next level to make it something great.


For example, we’ve all seen Edgar Rubin’s famous black and white image that, depending on which space you are focusing on, depicts either two faces or a vase. This is the kind of visual interest playing with positive and negative space can bring. It can help to create an image that is beautifully complex, yet still subtle and simple. This balance is every pattern designer’s dream! (And trust me, every client’s dream as well.)


When it comes to playing with negative space, you will quickly learn that less can sometimes help you create much more! More motifs, that is. As Edgar Rubin has shown us, utilizing negative space can be used to create two images in one- and can even change depending on how you look at it. What a fun idea for a pattern design, don’t you think? Just imagine, a dress that seems to transform as the wearer moves, or wallpaper that looks different depending on if you are looking up close or far away.

negative space blog photo 1

All clever visual tricks aside, intelligently balanced positive and negative space will have your designs looking much more refined. Not properly balancing space can have a pattern looking crowded and busy. I’ve been guilty of this myself on many occasions- I just love creating wild, intricate designs! But sometimes you need to take a step back and look at the overall composition of your pattern. Are the motifs too crowded? Is the repeat tracking strangely? The relationship between positive and negative space in pattern design is so important.  

Additionally, if you are creating patterns to be physically printed, negative space will be your best friend! Why? Using negative space can help to reduce the amount of colors you need printed, making it cheaper to produce- and this means it is more likely to sell. For instance, I recently was working on a design for paper towels. The company told me that due to cost, maximum number of colors I could use was two- I know, how boring! So, instead of using the white paper only as a background, I cut pieces out of the design so that the white would show through as a third “color.” This made for a very interesting design that looked much more expensive than it actually was!

Have you made clever use of negative space recently? Give it a try in Genue– we’d love to see what you come up with!


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