Space refers to the distance or area between, around, above, below, or within other elementssuch as lines, shapes, forms, colors, textures, frames, and images in a composition. It can be two dimensional or three dimensional and described as flat, shallow, deep, open, closed, positive, negative, actual, ambiguous, or illusory. The fundamental principle of space is an integral design element to be considered in any two-dimensional composition and can appear open, dense, compact, loose, empty, full, flat, or voluminous depending on how space is being used, organized, divided, or in other words—activated.
Space is usually identified as negative space or white space—terms that refer to the empty but often active areas of any visual composition that are void of the graphic elements. Space containing elements such as shapes, forms, images, and such is identified as positive space. The varied degrees or amounts of negative or positive space in any composition can create an illusion of depth through the careful, established spatial relationships of foreground and background or figure–ground relationships.
When negative and positive space are equal, spatial depth is lacking and a more visually static composition is created. For example, think of compositional space as a room in your home. The room is a three-dimensional space containing your personal possessions—or compositional elements. Is it cluttered or is there ample room to live, work, and relax? You design the room by filling it with objects on its walls, floors, and ceilings. The graphic designer does the same thing by creating a composition with shape, form, color, image, and type within a two-dimensional space.
Types of Space
In addition to the formal considerations of space as a compositional element, graphic designers can create specific types of compositional space to further enhance and strengthen any visual message:
The area that a visual composition physicallyoccupies is identified as actual space.
The manipulation of flat surfaces to create a perception of depth, movement, or direction is called pictorial space. It relies on illusion to deceive the mind and eye of the viewer.
A visual composition that influences the mind and eye of the viewer is called psychological space.
In this type of compositional space, the elemental, aesthetic, and functional requirements of space are critical physical considerations for any graphic designer, since they require an interface with the built environment. A wayfinding sign program for an airport, an exhibition of art and artifacts in a museum, or a large-scale display for an urban retailer are all representative examples of physical compositional space.
Characteristics and Techniques
Historically, artists and designers have created a number of methods to interpret and perceive spatial depth in a composition. Compositional space in visual communications is essentially flat. It has height and width but not depth. However, the illusion of spatial depth and three-dimensional space in compositions can be achieved in the mind, as well as the eye, of the viewer through specific visual characteristics and techniques. Relative size in spatial relationships is one of the easiest visual characteristics to create the illusion of space in a two-dimensional composition. A larger element will always appear closer in a composition than a smaller one.
Overlapping in spatial relationships is another way to suggest depth in a two-dimensional composition. When compositional elements overlap one another, they are perceived as if one is covering parts of the other so that one appears in the foreground and the other appears covered and in the background of the composition. Location in spatial relationships refers to where an element is found vertically in a two-dimensional composition. The bottomof the composition is perceived as the foreground; the area nearest to the viewer and the top of the composition is perceived as its background—the area farthest from the viewer. The higher an element is placed in a composition, the further back in the composition it is perceived.
Types of Perspective
There are three types of perspective techniques that a graphic designer can rely upon to further enhance spatial depth:
This type of perspective in spatial relationships is another visual effect that relies on elements such as color, tone, and contrast to create the illusion of space in a two-dimensional composition. When elements appear in the distance and farther away from the viewer, atmospheric haze can obscure their visibility. This effect can be achieved by changing or modifying the visual characteristics of the composition's elements—by lightening their value, lowering their contrast, softening their edges, minimizing their detail, or muting their color. For example, increasing the blue tone of an element also creates a sense of depth in a composition because cool colors appear to recede whereas warm colors appear to come forward.
Linear, or One-Point, Perspective
Parallel lines converging toward a single vanishing point located on a horizon line is called linear, or one-point, perspective. Perspective lines above a horizon line are drawn diagonally down toward the vanishing point; lines below this line are drawn diagonally up toward it. Vertical lines indicate height and horizontal lines indicate width; in both orientations the lines remain parallel. For example, if you see for miles along a straight road, the sides of the road in reality are parallel to one another; however they appear to draw closer and closer to one another and finally disappear at a vanishing point far off in the distance. It is one of the most common visual techniques to create spatial depth in two-dimensional compositions. This technique was first developed and used by Renaissance artists; they initially plotted perspective lines as a base to their compositions, using them to create realistic illusions of depth in drawings and paintings of architectural scenes.
Planar, or Two-Point, Perspective
In this type of perspective, the two visible sides of an element stretch away toward two vanishing points in the distance located on a horizon line. Vertical lines within the composition remain parallel to one another. The remaining lines that in reality appear parallel in the composition also appear to diminish diagonally toward one of the two vanishing points to either side of the horizon line. Using these visual characteristics and techniques, singularly or in combination with each other, will strengthen the illusions of depth and space in any visual composition.