Designing the world’s original alarm clock website was a process that necessitated a great deal of thought. My name is Tom, and I am the creator of OnlineClock.net. When I sat down to map out what I wanted this website to look like, certain considerations for the design had to be made. I did not want OnlineClock.net to include distractions because that would go against every element of what is considered to be a good design. One of the key elements in design is known as negative space.
Negative space, in art, is the space around and between the subject(s) of an image…The use of negative space is a key element of artistic composition.
— Negative Space definition from Wikipedia
The practice of graphic design balances all elements in a space so that negative space is not just an empty space. When space is at a premium, pages that are too full of text and graphics will run the risk of being difficult to read. Using the negative space correctly can give webpage designs a classic or balanced appearance. When I designed OnlineClock.net, I used the negative space to allow users to encounter an uncomplicated view of the various clocks and timers that are showcased on the site.
Many website publishers don’t take into consideration that the human eye can be distracted quite easily. Studies have shown that viewers of any design tend to enjoy spaces that are uncomplicated. I believe that negative space has a very important meaning. My views on negative space are in part derived from art and philosophy…as well as simply from my own personal design preferences. These areas succinctly define both the importance and the advantage of using negative space to produce a good design.
Negative Space Used in Art: Clarifying the Message
In the late 1950s, corporate art began to emerge. Artists have always been used to further a company message; however, negative space began to emerge as the best way to hold a someone’s attention. It was found to be effective across all demographics. Previously, there was a tendency to use corporate art as some sort of scientific testimonial. The scientific approach resulted in promotional pages that were filled with words and claims. Consumers often got lost in the glut of words, and they didn’t give much attention or importance to the product. Companies came to the conclusion that their faces should be carefully designed and refined by art. It was during this time that good design became part of good business.
Minimalist forms and expressions that included negative space were part of an effort to bring elegance, dignity and authenticity to companies through carefully designed and articulated images. The key figure in this new art was a man named Paul Rand. Rand created the famously minimalist block logo for International Business Machines (IBM). He has been credited as the first person to bring the correct use of negative space to Madison Avenue. His style was widely emulated. It fueled the entire minimalist trend in design and advertising during the late 1950s and through most of the 1960s. His design basics were also repeated in the architecture and furnishings of that era.
Negative Space in Philosophy
If you have ever studied philosophy, you probably have read some of the philosophical tenants of Buddhism. One of the practices of Buddhism is meditation. Generally speaking, meditation uses negative space as the quiet that a person needs to meditate.
According to Buddhists, the mind’s realm is the seed of the goal. The very state of consciousness achieved depends on the chosen method of getting there. The practice of meditation integrates concentration with insight. In order to gain clarity, the person who is meditating must concentrate.
In design, concentration is very much a part of understanding a message. To find the clearest path to understanding a message or a visual, the design must be uncluttered so that the viewer can concentrate. In essence, creating a clear path to a message allows the viewer to reach the desired goal of understanding.
Although I’m personally not a Buddhist, I like to think that some of my thinking has been influenced by Buddhist thought, and that my life has been influenced by the various Buddhists who I’ve had contact with throughout life.
What is the sound of no clocks ticking ? Well there you have it…empty space, of course.
Negative Space in Website Design
It’s pretty widely known that website design should employ several basic guidelines.
These guidelines include writing style, navigation and page design. Information on a website should be structured so that it has meaning or purpose for the user. I used these principles to produce a good design for OnlineClock.net.
It’s easy to get caught up into a having a glut of advertising on a website. However, too many ads only serve to take the attention away from users. Additionally, too many advanced features tend to confuse and complicate the experiences of website visitors. Many of these advanced features that can be implemented are neither wanted nor are they used by most visitors. The condition of having too many features on a website is often referred to as feature glut.
Keeping things clean and simple creates an ease of use. It also delivers a clear message to website visitors.
I have always thought that negative space must be balanced so that the eye can come to rest on what is important. The simple design and intentionally limited feature set of OnlineClock.net serves the users well. The ease of use on this site is attributable to the strict adherence to the proper balancing of negative space in design. All of this is why the site has remained largely unchanged over the years: if it’s not broken, don’t fix it !
A good example of the improper use of negative space can be seen in the area of graphics that are used to connect a particular feature. Just because big or bold buttons are available, doesn’t mean that a website designer should use them on a website. These types of buttons only serve to gobble an enormous amount of space, and they create a distraction for the user. Implementing simple graphics makes a pleasant experience for everyone, and it simplifies the features. Once users perceive a complicated experience on a website, they’ll usually leave that site to find something simpler to operate. The reason they do this is because of the effects of visual perception. Visual perception is both a physical and a psychological state. The human eye captures an image, and the human brain perceives its meaning.
Visual Perception in Design
Keeping a design simple for a viewer is not based on the fact that most human minds are simple or that most people are not intelligent enough to understand a complicated visual. In fact, the reasons for simplicity in design are quite complex, and these reasons have nothing to do with intelligence.
I’m not a psychologist, so I won’t go into too many specifics on the topic of visual perception; however, I can give you some of the basic ideas behind this phenomenon. An abundance of text or graphics can actually cause tension to the human psyche. Although each of us may enjoy pleasing graphics or images working in unison, they have to be used properly in order to be understood and enjoyed.
Every aspect of a visual has a psychological counterpart in the central nervous system. Because of this, negative space on a web page must be well-balanced so that the mind can comprehend a message without stress.
I realize that I may be getting into complicated areas as they relate to design, but they are important considerations. I made the decision to balance negative space, images, graphics and text because it has been proven that simplicity is the best route to clear communication.
There you have it.
The simple and uncluttered design of OnlineClock.net was a purposeful and well thought out plan employing the very basics of good design.
I will always strive to keep this website free of complications and unnecessary features to make your visit both enjoyable and productive! If you would like to talk more about design, send us your thoughts and feedback via our comment form below. You can also gladly join us on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ to engage us in a discussion about the principles of good design.