Spatial Awareness in Design

Have you ever come across a design that is so simple, so clean, yet so beautiful that it makes you wonder “How are they able to do so much with so little?” If so, then you are probably subconsciously realizing the special awareness of the design. Huge, Inc is a perfect example of the “less is more” approach with outstanding spatial awareness.

What is Spatial Awareness

Spatial awareness is simply the understanding and use of space in an effective way on your canvas. It sounds simple but it really requires a high level of mastering to get correct. This could be taking advantage of whitespace, or even grouping elements close together to create tension.

Those designers who can harness and use space to their advantage will find that elements can be placed in all sorts of unconventional ways, yet still work. Often times beginning designers place elements based on what “looks” or “feels” right, however that is not the best way to use space as accuracy and consistency is very low.

How can I use Spatial Awareness?

The first step to great spatial awareness in a design is developing a grid system. A grid divides your canvas up into small sections consisting of margins, columns, modules, flowlines and spatial zones. The canvas then ends up looking like a a series of boxes with columns (I found an example on google images here).

With this grid you can now find where elements should and can be placed on the page in a way that activates and takes advantage of space. Because you are using space in a consistant mathamatical way the overall composition of the design feels much more consistant and unified.

Taking it to the Next Level

These same principals of consistency can be applied to the typography as well. Because the grid will dictate margins for any element on the page (if a column is 18 pixels in width, then the margins of headings should be 9px/18px/27px/36px/etc…). The line heights off all type should also follow the structure and rules of the grid.

All of these steps to better map out your designs will be a subtle but noticeable improvement in your design over the tried and passable “eyeball it” methods. Note: There are times where you want to break the grid, some designs actually benefit from the chaotic and unstructured feel. However you have to make a decision as a designer that it is in fact what should be done.

I will be posting more about spatial awareness and using grid systems in the future, stay tuned.

Have any experiences with grids or spatial awareness? Post them here!