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Design tips for non designers - understanding negative space

by Kate Middleton - February 18, 2017

This blog is about how to improve your design skills. We're looking at the concept of negative space to prevent overwhelm for our learners. Our digital design team are experts in visual and graphic design and you can see examples of their work in our Content development services and in our Compliance solutions.

The role of good design in everyday work

Bombarded with so many forms of communication these days, it is easy to get overwhelmed. From text messages, to emails to social media and always on news, the constant flooding of ‘important’ messages makes it difficult to know when we should pay attention. Fortunately, that is where good design comes in.

Many of us - including people like you and me need better design skills, although we aren't 'trained designers'.  We all have to communicate visually these days, just to grab that all too fleeting attention, so let’s find out how to do that well. First up is looking at the design concept of negative space. Otherwise known as - you do not have to fill every bit of the page!

the science behind elearning design free ebook

From fine art to fine design tips

When you are designing an eLearning solution, it can often be tempting use all the design options you have to get across the information. It took some time for me to avoid typical design mistakes and learn that just because we can do it doesn’t mean we should! 

When I was in Sixth Form in my native Bristol I studied Fine Art. This was great; minimal reading while English Lit and Lang swamped me, great big work books you could pour stuff all over, French teachers that said ‘oh la la’ un-ironically. There are a few things I took with me from this time into my present role as an Instructional Designer, one of them that I would not have predicted was the concept of negative space.

I loved my work book in Sixth Form. Every thought I had I could spew onto the page and my teacher would love it; she’d glance first at my mess of charcoal, chalk and real-life-twigs; then at my hastily scribbled description overleaf - “Ah!” She would say, “I understand!” I’ve learned that the learner may not need, nor want, this grand moment of clarity. A metaphor can be a great way to hint at a deeper meaning of a subject, but there’s no need to dwarf the actual content with your own ruminations and tangents. Unless it helps makes the learning sticky – you’re just showing off.

From a design perspective – it can not only be more visually pleasing to the learner to break up chunks of colour and text with some white space, it can also save some time in the build process. Not every single element of the course needs to have bells and whistles on it to make its point. Sometimes when something is stated plainly and clearly, it has a great impact indeed. If designers can spend their time focusing on content that DOES need bells and whistles, they can make these elements spectacular while letting the simpler points speak for themselves.

So incorporating negative space doesn’t mean stepping away from creativity, it’s just a step back.

Ask yourself if everything on your page is really saying something - or is it just chatter?

Examples of negative space

Take a look again at these examples of negative space - my favourite is number 1, what is yours?  And at the end of this blog is an example infographics that uses lots of negative space.

the science behind elearning design free ebook

What design challenges do you have?

Do you create digital content in-house, or do often have to communicate complex information to others? Our digital design team would love to hear from you!

Example of negative space - from our blog on 7 deal breakers for the modern LMS

7 deal breakers for modern elearning



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