Find time for the negative


You hear radio chatter buzzing in your left ear. Your breath is heavy in your right ear. You’re weightless. But you’re wearing a suit, which is good, because you’re drifting through space.

You see the blackened, ripped scraps of your shuttle falling back to Earth as you float away. You’ll drift for eternity without touching a thing.

Your problem? Too much negative space — not enough stuff. Trees, rocks and dirt would be my first picks.

You’ll die of boredom long before you suffocate.

In design, negative space — white space — is the stuff between stuff. It’s the area between and around objects. White space isn’t what’s there. It’s what’s missing.

Last year I worked as lead designer for the Sunflower. I designed about 95 front pages.

I arranged photos and stories to snuggle up like sardines in a can. It was my biggest rookie mistake — no negative space. Then again, we paid for color pages — and dammit, we got our money’s worth.

I’ve since learned my lesson. Now, I’m writing a cumbersome textbook about design.

I don’t have much written yet, though. Actually, I’ve only written the first three sentences. Here they are:

“Becoming a designer is a two-step process. First, you understand what should be included. Then, some time later, you understand what should be removed.”

Maybe the remainder of the book can just be blank pages.

Now, let’s do a quick exercise.

Think about that quiet part in the middle of the song “Shout” by Otis Day and the Knights — also known as “the best song at that wedding.”

It’s the part where everything gets “a little bit softer now” and everyone crouches. That’s white space, in a song. I know, right?

Now, just for one minute, stop where you are and sing that part of “Shout.” But instead of singing “a little bit softer now,” sing “a little bit whiter now” to help you remember white space.

Once you’re crouched low and whisper-singing, slowly stand up. Sing louder and louder until you’ve reached a near-yodel holler. Try to get others to join in — this is what campus involvement is all about, people.

Now you’ll never forget what white space is.

It’s the cream in your coffee and the hole in your donut.

It’s the grassy clearing in the woods behind my house.

It’s being awake during the day and asleep at night — or it’s the opposite.

It’s the days you don’t have to go to work.

It’s good moods and bad moods. It’s hook-ups and break-ups. It’s what makes Friday night bar shut-downs so much fun and Saturday morning sunlight so bright.

It’s ying and it’s yang. It’s universal. It’s the entire story — the big picture. It’s a promise that whatever is happening right now is only temporary.

Once you understand white space, the next time you have to climb back on your horse, you won’t fall.

You’ll find balance.