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Using negative space in design: Middle school


A lesson will to guide students through creating a more aesthetically pleasing layout using negative space


  • Students will distinguish between positive and negative space.
  • Students will produce samples of positive and negative space.
  • Students will apply their knowledge of positive and negative space to identify real world examples.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.2a Introduce a topic; organize complex ideas, concepts, and information so that each new element builds on that which precedes it to create a unified whole; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., figures, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1–3 above.)


45 minutes


Handout: Negative space guided notes

Handout: Negative space sample 1

Handout: Negative space sample 2

Handout: Logo ranking sheet

Computers with Internet access

Lesson step-by-step

1. Introduction — 15 minutes

Distribute the “Negative space guided notes” handout and “Negative space samples 1 and 2.” Conduct guided note-taking using these definitions:

  • Positive space: the space occupied by a subject.
  • Negative space: the space around and between the subject of an image, graphic or layout. Negative space is in contrast to positive space, which will be the image, text or graphic.
  • It’s important to note that negative space does not always equate to white space. Color may used to create the negative space.

Discuss the negative space samples. In sample 1, students will focus on the way negative space is utilized to distinguish the letters for the section. Looking more closely at the large photo and the secondary photo overlayed on it, we can see that the photo’s shape with the added triangle creates a line that travels parallel to the cutting board under the sandwich. In “Negative space sample 2”, students should discuss how the letters are created using negative space. They will also see a picture in the space. The picture is a highly recognizable piece of the school building.

2. Skill development – 25-45 min

Next, students will research logos that effectively use negative space. Based on examples you select in advance, conduct a brief discussion. (Use this link to see logos with hidden messages and talking points:  For example, you could project the FedEx logo to show students the hidden arrow. After talking through a handful of examples as a class, students will search online for two logos. One logo should use white space to create negative space, and one logo should use color as negative space.

Students will print their logos, post them to an online forum in your content management system, or post them to a Google Doc and share with the teacher. Students should explain how the negative space is created within the design.

As time permits, discuss submissions as a class or in groups.

3. Closure – 5 minutes

Review negative and positive space. Students may share which logos they felt were the most effective using negative and positive space based on their evaluations. You could also move this sharing time to a second day.