Music, Design, and White Space

As a designer, I’ve found a lot of times that people are afraid of white space. Like it’s a big scary monster or dragon or something. Why do we run away from it? Maybe its that we don’t understand or appreciate the value of it. White space. I often hear the words, “Can you make the logo bigger?” Or, “Can we add more color there? Or a photo, a burst, a bubble, something. Anything. But we need to fill that blank area more.” You get the point. What’s with this white space, and why are folks afraid of it?

In page layout, illustration and sculpture, white space is often referred to as negative space. It is the portion of a page left unmarked: the space between graphics, margins, gutters, space between columns, space between lines of type or figures and objects drawn or depicted.

The best question I’ve ever heard about composition or layout regarding this issue is not what can I add to this design, but what can I TAKE AWAY from it, to make it better? What one element might I be able to REMOVE in order to make the whole thing look and feel better? Sounds opposite, doesn’t it? But I shouldn’t.

I like to live my life the same way I like to design. Simple, minimal, clean. Less is more.

And man, do I LOVE white space. When we start removing it from a design, we start adding clutter.

The same rules could be applied to music, or any act of creation. Today I was listening to a few of the albums that Johnny Cash and Rick Rubin made together, the American Recordings. I personally think that this is some of the best music that’s ever been recorded. The story of the collaboration between Rick and Johnny alone is a great one, and I encourage you to read about It. I’m not going into detail about that aspect of it here, since this blog is about white space. But the American Recordings music, much of it is quite sparse and minimal. That’s where the magic spark is found. Most of it is just Johnny and his acoustic guitar, telling fantastic stories.  Maybe a few piano flourishes.  It invites the listener INTO the song. It takes alway all the noise, instrumentation and clutter that doesn’t need to be there. If there was a band on the track, it was always understated, always minimal. It always brought the most important thing to our ears. It’s just Johnny’s voice, which we know is just a force of nature. Rick Rubin, when he was producing thee special sessions, probably thought, “What can I remove from the song that would make it even better??” Let’s not add more cowbell here. It’s musical white space.

Next time you see white space, embrace it. Give it a big hug.  It’s a beautiful thing to take it.

There are no comments published yet.

Leave a Comment