When it comes to the creative process I’ve always been an advocate of less is more. Albert Einstein’s first rule of work was, “Out of clutter, find simplicity.”
This is a creative paradigm I’ve seen disregarded again and again—not just in visual design, but in all forms of art. There’s the cook, over-seasoning a dish with too many spices. There’s the drummer on Sunday morning playing much too busily. And there’s the associate pastor creating a sermon graphic that includes every detail of the new series. Less is more.
Unfortunately, the less is more mantra is easier to say than do. Mark Twain said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Just because a design has fewer elements doesn’t mean it’s easier to create. In fact, it’s often more difficult. And with that being said, I want to introduce you to a simple guideline I rely on when creating a design.
The biggest problem I run into when designing is trying to balance all the elements and words. Does this fit here? Am I adding too much? Is this visual overload? To answer these questions I’ve found this guideline invaluable: It’s called positive space vs. negative space.
Positive Space vs. Negative Space
The best way to define positive space vs. negative space is to illustrate the principle with a graphic. Below is a graphic I created promoting a church’s Twitter account. As you can see, this graphic comprises many different elements. There are four lines of text (all in different fonts), a Twitter icon, as well as a background image. Without proper balancing, this graphic would have ended up a convoluted mess.
In this example, note that positive space refers to all the elements that are currently taking up room (the lines of text and the icon), while negative space refers to everything else. Negative space is essentially the empty blue space. The basic guideline of positive space vs. negative space is about finding a way to proportionately balance the two. In this graphic, the negative space doesn’t disproportionately outweigh the positive, nor vice versa. They’re evenly balanced and working together.
Conversely, in the example below, I’ve taken the exact same graphic and completely disregarded the guideline of positive space vs. negative space. In this example, I wanted all of the elements within the graphic to be larger so that people could read them more easily. But, as you can see, when spacing is disregarded, visual design gets very messy, very fast.
In this version of the graphic, the positive space dominates the negative space. It’s bursting at the seams—an exaggerated example of visual overload. In this version, there isn’t really a focal point. Where is your eye drawn? Everything is in your face, demanding attention. This is the design equivalent of a guitarist playing so loudly that you can’t hear any of the other instruments. There’s no balance and there’s no harmony.
Finding the Balance
Perhaps the wisest man who ever lived said, “The more talk, the less truth; the wise measure their words” (Proverbs 10:19, The Message). Solomon said that it’s easier to ramble on than to choose your words carefully. Mark Twain said that it’s easier to write a long letter than to write a short one. And in your church’s designs, you’ll find it’s easier to put whatever you want into a graphic than to deliberately eliminate what’s unnecessary.
The underlying truth of positive space vs. negative space is that both are equally important. Your visual designs need to be able to breathe. They need to have negative space around the edges. They need to have margins. And these empty spaces are just as important as non-empty spaces.
If you don’t consider yourself much of a designer, that’s perfectly alright. Spoiler alert: You don’t have to be a designer to create beautiful church graphics.
Remember Albert Einstein’s first rule of work? “Out of clutter, find simplicity.” Whether you have too much to say, or not enough, use the guideline of positive space vs. negative space to balance your church’s designs. Less is almost always more.