Positive and Negative Space. So basic, yet so important.

Cookies

I’d like you to imagine that you are are a baker who is itching to make a fresh batch of cookies.

You’ve prepared your dough, and have proceeded to roll it as a flat sheet on the table. The next step, is to take out your forms and cut out the cookie shapes.

Tell me, how would you go about in cutting up your cookies?
Would you try and carefully place the forms tightly together in order to not waste dough?
Would you space them out evenly according to a certain standard so they don’t expand into each other in the oven?
Would you cut them up without a care in the world because you’re just going to re-roll and reuse the residual dough anyway?

In the context of design, the parts within the cookie outlines are positive spaces and the residual dough themselves are negative spaces.

Positive spaces are spaces where people settle down and dwell, like rooms and gathering areas. They are useful by nature of their, well, use. Negative spaces are either circulation spaces or spaces that have no set use – like that awkward unutilized corner in a triangular room.

As designers, you want to make sure you minimize the amount of useless negative space. Space is a scarce commodity – so it’s only responsible to use it well. That doesn’t mean to try and have absolutely no negative space, as that could be disastrous. Imagine a school without hallways or open spaces of any sort. People would need to pass through each and every classroom, disrupting lectures in order to go take a pee. Positive and Negative space aren’t inherently bad – it’s all a matter of putting them smartly together.

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