Musings on visual context

I noticed something that I tend to do with my designs a while ago. Well, more like a small collection of somethings that happen to relate to the point at hand. I notice that design elements need space, specifically space from the edge of the page. Sometimes running large elements off the page is acceptable as well. I sometimes tell myself that elements need room to breathe on the page.

I wondered, with my “functionalist” mentality, why. I knew it looked better to me, but I couldn’t say exactly why my eyes and my brain liked it more. I finally realized (at least part of) what it is.

Part of the reason is “context.” Particularly when competing for space on a store shelf or the like, giving some space in a design ensures that your design elements are seen primarily in the originally intended context. Giving some space allows the eye some room before the edge of the page and keeps from undesired visual changes. By that I mean the eye can continue to explore a single design instead of being drawn to another design. The space provides a sort of visual buffer zone, warning the eye that it is leaving the page and allowing the design elements to draw the eye back onto the page.

A second aspect is that a more simple design with adequate space makes the design seem more like an element while the competitors’ busy designs form a visual background. This may sound a little far fetched at first, but bear with me. From a distance, smaller details merge into a pseudo texture (pointillism for example). When you have a simpler design in contrast, from a distance, it becomes the standout element.


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