One of the attributes of a successful design is it’s ability to become memorable. Recently, my mother approached me with a sense of urgency and exclaimed, “Did you know there is an arrow hidden in the FedEx logo?!” I laughed and told her that I was already aware of this. I was intrigued by the fact that although this logo was designed nearly twenty years ago we were now having a discussion about it. Explaining what negative space is to a fifty-two year old with no design experience was easier than expected but explaining why it’s so effective was a challenge and got me thinking.
Incase you are unaware, negative space is the space around an object and not the object itself. For example, the word “FedEx” is the object while the arrow between the “E” and “X” is the negative space. One might argue the effectiveness of this method by saying, “It took her twenty years to see. What is the point?” In my opinion, the point is to create a synergistic quality that eventually gives the viewer an ‘Aha!’ moment but does not rely on this realization to be a successful design. In other words, the design should be able to stand on it’s own and the ‘Aha!’ moment is simply a bonus that allows the design to convey more of it’s target message. Going back to the FedEx example, the logo was still effective prior to my mother seeing the arrow. Once she saw it however, it got her thinking and talking about the brand again.
If you can add a clever, synergistic quality to your designs that enhances the overall function then you have a win-win scenario. Let’s take a look at other logo designs that were successfully able to pull off this very technique.
The Bronx Zoo
The negative space in the animal’s legs was altered to resemble a cityscape to help emphasize that this zoo is located in Bronx, NY.
In French, Carrefour means “crossroads.” An arrow is placed on each side of logo to emphasize this “crossroads” aspect while creating a “C” in the negative space.
Circus of Magazines
Here the designer uses three sets of magazine pages. The negative space produces a silhouette of a circus tent.
A simple line was created to connect the negative space of the “D” and “G” to create the silhouette of a shovel.
The negative space of the power plug creates an “E” shape. This power plug also resembles a “D” emphasizing the “ED” of Ed’s Electric.
The negative space of the lowercase “e” creates the silhouette of an elephant’s trunk. This was done because elefont sounds like elephant when read.
The negative space between the “E” and “S” along with the addition of circles create the silhouette of a shoe.
The negative space between the two “F” characters create the silhouette of an air plane emphasizing being able to find a flight.
The negative space between the “F” and the red lines create the silhouette of a “1”.
Hope For African Children Initiative
Here, we see the silhouette of a child (left) and an adult (right). The negative space between the two creates the silhouette of Africa.
The negative space between the “U” and “I” form an “S”.
The negative space under the letter “M” creates the silhouette of a t-shirt emphasizing that it is a shirt company.
Newcastle Food & Wine Festival
Here, three wine glasses are placed in a larger wineglass. The negative space between them creates a silhouette of a fork emphasizing both the food and wine aspect of the festival.
Here, you might see the woman or the peacock first. The negative space is used to emphasize both.
The negative space between the two t-shirts create the silhouette of a crown emphasizing the royal aspect of the company.
The negative space between the two arrows create an “H” in the word shift.
Spartan Golf Club
The negative space between the swing plane in the golfer create the silhouette of a spartan helmet. The negative space under the golfer’s hands help emphasize this spartan helmet by creating the shape of an eye.
The negative space inside the mountain create the silhouette of a bear.
The negative space between the two hats create an “H” shape.
The Hartford Whalers
This logo actually convey’s three concepts at the same time. First, there is a whale’s tail on the top in blue. Under that we see a “W” in green. The negative space between the two create an “H” shape.
Questions/comments? Email the editor, Mani O’Brien at firstname.lastname@example.org