Negative space is the space between, within and surrounding an object in an image. The positive space is the focus of the image, the object itself, but the negative space is just as important. It shares edges with the positive space, defining the outline of the object and creating proportion.
Recently, there has been an emergence of artists expressing their creativity via experimental design, creating positive spaces and shapes that, in turn, cleverly carve out shapes in negative space, interlocking just like a jigsaw puzzle. The results can be stunning. Here, we've found some brilliant examples – enjoy!
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The South African charity for penguins uses negative space as a trademark and even within its logo. The 'See the Reality' campaign featured a series of stunning posters with remarkable use of negative space. The relationship between the negative and positive space was significant in this instance, as it encouraged people to consider the transition of the penguin from alive to dead.
It's worth checking out their other campaigns too, especially 'Adopt a Penguin', for other great uses of negative space.
02. Smarter Planet
IBM's Smarter Planet campaign was run by Oglivy & Mather (now Oglivy) in 2009, with Noma Bar at the helm of the design. Yes, we know it was a decade ago but it was an absolute masterclass in the bold simplicity of negative space and it deserves to be on this list. This fried egg spaceman is a work of genius, clever and playful as are the rest of the posters in the series – and there a lot of them.
For the new Broadway production of Frozen, Disney commissioned this poster by advertising agency Serino Coyne and UK artist Olly Moss. It features a stylised snowflake that incorporates the main characters through a clever use of negative space, which many observers might not notice immediately.
04. Formula 1
This clever negative space logo, designed by Carter Wong studio, served Formula 1 well - it was in use from 1994 until the end of last year, when it was replaced by a brand new streamlined logo created by W+K London and accompanied by three custom typefaces designed by Marc Rouault.
05. Pittsburgh Zoo
Why would a zoo have a tree as its logo? Look closely at the logo for Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, however, and you'll see that the space around the tree actually forms a gorilla and what looks to us like a lioness. What else can you spot?
Working a slightly different part of the brain to other negative space images, these posters by Adri Bodor and Mark Szulyovsky challenge the viewer to recognise pop culture icons from a few isolated details. Some of them are easier than others.
The Design from Finland mark was introduced in 2011 to provide consumers in Finland and elsewhere with evidence of Finnish design excellence, and its logo is a prime example. Designed by Rasmus Snabb from Werklig in Helsinki, it packs a glorious little piece of clever negative space into a mostly typographic treatment, turning the F and I of 'Finland' into a Finnish flag.
08. Air Max 2017
Negative space doesn't have to be static, you know. Nike wanted to draw attention to the ultralight support and maximum comfort provided by its Air Max 2017 trainers, and so ManvsMachine delivered a campaign that portrayed this through a series of visual metaphors inspired by scenarios encountered on an everyday run. Rather than use an actual Air Max, it instead employs a trainer-shaped piece of negative space to suggest air. Clever.
This personal project saw Michael De Pippo putting his photography, Photoshop and cookie eating skills to test. The Canadian graphic designer used negative space to hide a hungry monster in each of these half-eaten cookies – he cooked up created six different biscuit flavours, and sold them as a limited-edition giclée print.
NBC first used a peacock in its logo in 1956. The design subsequently went through a number of changes, experimenting with a snake logo and variations on the letter N, until 1986, when the broadcaster introduced the best-known version with the peacock's body displayed as negative space. There have been stylised variants since then, but the peacock remains in place.
Each month, Yorokobu magazine asks an artist or designer to create a series of original numerical characters for its Numerografía section, and this was what Forma and Co came up with. The Barcelona-based team used eye-popping primary colours and a clever use of negative space that creates a 3D effect.
12. Mister Cooper
Briefed to design a distinctive logo for an adult-targeted alcohol and gourmet ice cream startup, renowned branding firm Johnson Banks utilised negative space to tell potential customers exactly what Mister Cooper was selling. The eye-catching identity system was rolled out across packaging, uniforms and merchandise.
It's easy to become desensitised to sad news, but this video for the World Food Programme powerfully drives home the plight of refugees. Designed by negative space master Noma Bar and animated by Ale Accini, the 30-second video called 'Symbols' uses stunning visual shorthand to help stop hunger and start peace. And it's emotively narrated by Liam Neeson.
Romania-based artist Bodea Daniel – aka Kretank – is a pro when it comes to negative space. Much of his work features the style, and he specialises in animal-based designs. Take a look at his logo portfolio and see if you can spot all the hidden messages!
Next page: more mind-bending negative space designs