Wednesday 11 April 2018

Negative White Space

One of the things that has defined the current trends in graphic design, and by extension the appearance of what we would call contemporary, is the positioning of white text on colored backgrounds.
In my view, this change is at the very least partly influenced by technical means.
Up until the second world war, mass commercial printing was largely black and white. This was later followed by printing large fields of single colors, for immediate effects.
Around the 80's and the 90's, all the way up to the early 2000's, new, technological, means had made it easier and cheaper to print multiple passes of different colors, thereby allowing for logo and advertising designs to become more colorful.

Right up to this time, the foundation of corporate identities were printed media. Letterheads, folders, that sort of thing. This changed during the 2000's, with the introduction of web 2.0 and the internet becoming a platform that can't be done without. No longer did the limitations of print stipulate the limits of the possible. White was no longer only attainable if a piece of paper was left unprinted, any color was equal to any other in terms of its production. Furthermore, a previously unheard of need for immediately recognisable small icons had arisen. Most logos from the 90's, with their extended typefaces and bold colors, became a cluttered mess on the tiny dimensions that these new computer screens required. And so, companies had to react to these changes.
The most obvious example in my mind is the brilliant redesign of the Hema logo in 2006. The existing logo was a simple red word mark with a blue line underneath. This was replaced with the same word mark as white negative space centered inside a coloured square. Whenever I mentioned this redesign to people, they often respond with surprise to the fact that it had changed at all, which indicates its strength.
Many other companies later followed the same trend, such as Albert Heijn and Microsoft, but it can also been seen when comparing the logos of things that are popular today, such as Facebook or Starbucks, with logos of things that were popular 20 years ago, like Vodafone or Seinfeld.

All of this could serve as an introduction to an insightful article on the state of current-day graphic design and its implications on the perceived quality of a brand, but frankly it just irks me anytime someone unconsciously slapdashes a white font onto a brightly coloured background.