Design Interest: Negative Space, Better UIs, and the Wider Picture

It was a full house of designers (and even a few developers, I saw you!) for the second Design Interest event. Speakers Dave Burdon, Lauren Thompson, and Leanne Johnson covered the spectrum from inspiration to practical, & the evening finished off with informal critique sessions of work-in-progress.


  1. There was a great turnout (this picture isn't entirely fair, it was at the beginning before some people had arrived). Note for those wanting to attend in the future, this is one of those '6pm actually means 6pm' (as opposed to Supermondays where 6pm actually means 6:30). I suspect a few people were caught out by that one.
  2. We started out with a few important notes for Design Interest.
  3. First up was Dave Burdon (@gladcreative) on 'Negative space in design'.
    He's been obsessed with negative space since his art school teacher taught him how to use it when drawing nudes by looking at the space around the figure rather than at it. (That had the added advantage of allowing a 17 year old boy to avoid looking at a naked man for long periods of time!). 
  4. The most famous example of negative space is the Rubin Vase (the one with the face and the vase), but others include logos such as Noma Bar's IBM logos, Blade, Yoga Australia, Guild of Food Writers, and Pentagram's American Institute of Architects (all the last three can be viewed on Logo Design Love)
  5. The FedEx logo story is particularly illuminating in that the logo designer is very clear that it works because seeing its second symbol isn't necessary, only an added bonus:

    "Early on, before the brand rollout in mid-1994, FedEx's public relations agency was preparing to emphasize the arrow as a secondary graphic to underscore the "speed/precision" positioning. They proposed to leverage this in their FedEx communications. Landor put its foot down and said, "No way."
    The power of the hidden arrow is simply that it is a "hidden bonus." It is a positive-reverse optical kind of thing: either you see it or you don't. Importantly, not "getting the punch line" by not seeing the arrow, does not reduce the impact of the logo's essential communication. The power of the logo and the FedEx marketing supporting the logo is strong enough to convey clearly FedEx brand positioning. On the other hand, if you do see the arrow, or someone points it out to you, you won't forget it. I can't tell you how many people have told me how much fun they have asking others "if they can spot 'something' in the logo." To have filled in the arrow, or to somehow make it more "visible" would have been like Henny Youngman saying "Please take my wife" instead of "Take my wife. Please." Punch lines that need to be explained are neither funny nor memorable."
  6. Dave also showed us logos with negative space that he had created: H Electric, Scottish Emergency Dental Services, a Cake of Peace (real cake, from Tesco, apparently), the V&A 12 Days of Christmas Cards … and a couple that you had to be there to see as they're top secret. Soz.
  7. If you're interested in more on negative spaces, he recommends looking at Norma Bar's books and the usual blog posts. Someone in the audience also mentioned Pentagram's A Smile in the Mind.
  8. You'd have never guessed that it was Lauren Thompson (@lrnn)'s debut at public speaking. She have a fun "but a bit more practical" talk based on her work as a UI Designer.
  9. She gave five steps to a better UI:
    1. Research, inform ask.
    2. Sketch, scribble, throw away 
    She admitted "I used to hate drawing, but it helps you think". That said, if you can't get away from a computer, she recommends Balsamiq
    3. Refine the details
    Use patterns like Patternly and UI Patterns. For mockups, she uses Keynote Kung Fu, and good ol' Photoshop.
    4. Polish the pixels: get inspired "that doesn't mean stealing trendy ideas from dribbble"
    5. Happy people!
  10. And perhaps my favourite quote from her talk:
  11. Leanne Johnson (@minxlj) wrapped up the talks with a call-to-arms on Knowing other people's roles.