White Space is Important

Give a child a blank piece of paper and some crayons, and they are likely to colour-in the entire page. Unfortunately this instinct remains with many people as they enter adulthood, however in the design world it is a big no-no. In order for design to function it is equally important to look at what is not there as it is what is there. This is what the art and design world calls white space (or negative space). Without it most designs would be rendered useless.

It may seem silly to spend so much energy ensuring the balance of white space is correct, however if designers did not take this into consideration magazines would become illegible, posters confusing and indecipherable, leaflets a complete waste of time etc. Occasionally the concept of white space is abused with the purpose of portraying a particular message, however when legible typography is concerned, white space is a must.

Typography, from a graphic design perspective, became highly regarded after the emergence of the 1950s art movement, Swiss Style. Noted for its functional characteristics, it soon developed into the international typographical style.

Swiss typographer Emil Ruder (1914-70) taught his students the importance of using a grid, often asymmetrical, when placing typography into a design. Careful positioning of typefaces and other elements – including white space – is essential to the overall clarity of the final outcome.

“The typographer is familiar with white as a value in design…”
-Emil Ruder

For those struggling to grasp the concept of white space, the following citation from an ancient Chinese philosopher explains the importance. Although written centuries before it was relevant, this quote just about sums it up:

“From clay, pots are made, but it is the emptiness inside them that makes the essence of the pot. Walls with windows and doors form the house, but it is the emptiness between them that makes the essence of the house. The principle: the material contains usefulness, the immaterial imparts essence.”
-Lao-Tse

Keep this in mind when you are working on designs and you are not likely to go wrong. A designer’s job is often to get a message across through a balance of art work and typography. Do not let an aversion to white space ruin your work.

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Essay Resources

As part of my Graphic Design degree I had to write four essays (not including dissertation and proposals). In some ways I enjoyed writing these as it gave me the opportunity to learn new things. My essays varied on subjects from Bauhaus and illustration to sustainable design.

For those studying the same subject, or thinking of taking it up, I thought I would share with you a few of the books I bought to help me with my writing.

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Clean New World: Culture, Politics and Graphic Design

By Maud Lavin

This book is great for research into political aspects of graphic design. Lavin reveals the political influence on design from democracy to anti-Nazi propaganda. There are also chapters that focus on women designers and their contemporary activist work.

 

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Digital and Video Art
by Florence de Mèredieu

I purchased this book with the hope that it would help me to argue whether graphic design counts as an art form. It had a few helpful quotes and prompted me to research further in to particular designers and theorists. However it mostly focuses on computer graphics rather than graphic design or digital illustration.

 

 

 

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A Designer’s Research Manual: Succeed in Design by Knowing Your Clients and What They Really Need
by Jennifer Visocky O’Grady and Ken O’Grady

It was recommended by my tutor that I buy this book, not for essay writing, but for help with research. It provides a step -by-step guide about how to go about seeking the information you need. This is particularly helpful when you are tasked with writing your own brief for a project – something I had to do in my final year, and many designers have to do during their careers.

 

 

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British Posters: Advertising, Art & Activism
by Catherine Flood

I recommend this book for anyone interested in poster design regardless of whether or not you have an essay to write. It contains a vast selection of British posters from the V&A collection from 1945 through to the present day. It covers various advertising companies and countercultural groups, including the “Keep Britain Tidy” campaign, hand-printed punk posters, public art projects and the more recent political advertisements.

 

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Graphic Style: From Victorian to New Century
by Steven Heller and Seymour Chwast

Finally, if you’re looking for information about different styles of graphic design then this is the book you need. Admittedly there is not a lot you can quote, however it gives enough information to help you further your research. Beginning with the typical styles of pre-war graphic design, Heller and Chwast talk you through every art movement and development until the digital design of the 2000s. Accompanied by plenty of relevant images, this book provides a great insight into the changes and directions that graphic design has taken.

Naturally, I used hundreds more books and websites in my bibliographies, but these were a few of my favourites. I hope you also find them interesting whether as essay resources or a source of personal enjoyment.