Positive and negative - in the spatial sense - are very intriguing concepts. And when you pair this unique visual phenomenon with the human brain, you can get some pretty interesting interpretations! What your mind sees compared to what is actually there can be two completely different entities.
We’re all familiar with the famed “inkblot tests” used for psychological evaluation. What you see in the splotchy black and white supposedly holds the secret to your personality and emotional stability. But how is this phenomenon being applied to and shaping trends in the modern design world?
Take the above work of Japanese artist, Kumi Yamashita, for example. Comprised of solid objects, light, and shadow, Yamashita’s sculptures blur the line defining positive and negative space. While the physical objects would ordinarily be the main focus of traditional sculpture, the addition of light in Yamashita’s work causes the shadow (which would typically be viewed as negative space) to be looked at as the defining subject of the piece instead. By flip-flopping the role of shadow vs. object, Yamashita persuades our brains into seeing the positive in what would normally be considered negative space.
Or from a photography standpoint, take a peek at the work of Peter Wegner (above). In his Buildings Made of Sky collection, Wegner uses the negative space between structures to create the silhouettes of buildings, underscoring the importance of seeing the positive in the negative.
And positive vs. negative space has transcended into the realms of graphic design, too, with graphic designers capitalizing on creative ways of manipulating that forgotten area. Many logos, marketing material, and promotional signage now cleverly obscure hidden images and messages, creating a whimsical game of hide-and-seek within the graphic.
But what can we take away from this trend? And what does it mean for the world of design? We think the key lesson is to remember that when designing, it is important to look at every angle of the design process. Because, after all, what you see may be completely different than how others interpret it – and you may be surprised at how those different viewpoints can shape your design.
So today, we salute those who are able to find the positive in the negative, and mold it into the focal point of the piece, not matter what the medium. Because sometimes the best part of design is surprising and challenging our brains in refreshing, unexpected ways - intentional or not!