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Negative Space in Design: The FedEx Logo

Take a look at the FedEx logo.


What do you see?

There’s the unmistakable brand colours, sure. There’s also no form of iconography; this is a text-only logo.

Or is it?

Look a little closer, and you’ll see the presence of an arrow pointing to the right, nestled within the ‘E’ and the ‘x’.

This logo has won more than 40 design awards, and it’s not hard to see why. The hidden arrow is a direct reflection of FedEx’s raison d’être (they shift stuff from A to B) and remains one of the best examples of negative space in design.


What is negative space?

It’s tempting to compare negative space to an optical illusion, but it’s far smarter and more functional than that.

In design, negative space is the process of subtraction. It’s a technique designers use to apply meaning where there would otherwise be empty space.

The infamous FedEx arrow only exists because the ‘E’ and the ‘x’ have been placed so smartly together. Equally, the combination of the Universe 67 and Futura Bold fonts plays a vital role in revealing something which technically isn’t there at all.

Negative space simply refers to the blank space that surrounds solid elements within any logo. You can also see it in the WWF logo (check out how much of the Panda isn’t really there at all), NBC (spot the peacock?), and Toblerone (look out for the bear).


Why negative space takes time

The FedEx logo was originally conceived in 1974 and now appears on tens of thousands of vehicles and aircraft across the world.

Senior designer, Lindon Leader, was tasked with creating a logo that was clean and simple, while still embodying everything the company does.

“The primary attributes of the FedEx brand are precision, service, speed, reliability,” explains Leader. “They’re the kind of attributes that you just don’t develop overnight – no pun intended, given their original tagline.”

It took around nine months just to research ideas for the new logo. Five designs were eventually submitted, all of which intended to maximise the impact of the brand’s identity while making copious use of white space.

The arrow wasn’t a happy accident, either. Leader was smart enough to know that he could make the white space work for the brand.

We understand why he placed so much focus on that white space. Businesses are often opposed to the idea of paying for, essentially, ‘nothing’ in a logo. Why, after all, would you invest money in advertising when you’re making more use of white space than you are the elements of the logo itself?

But the fact remains that white space draws people into the logo it surrounds. And when you combine that white space with negative space to create something entirely unique and pleasantly surprising, you’ll end up with a logo that gets more headlines than most.


The difference between negative space and white space in logo design

We appreciate we’ve talked a lot about white space and negative space in this blog.

They both complement each other, as discussed. But how do they differ from one another?

Here’s a super simple definition for them:

  • Negative space creates a subject or meaning when two or more objects within a logo interact with one another. It’s all about the inner space between objects.
  • White space is basically the space surrounding a logo or design device. It contains no content, which provides breathing space for the design itself, and helps focus the audience on what matters.

You can use both negative space and white space independently or in conjunction with one another. Arguably, white space plays a more consistent role in all forms of design, but if you want to get really creative and smart with your logo, the addition of negative space will raise your brand’s identity considerably.

If we’ve sparked any intrigue, or you’d just like to chat through your own branding and logo, give the Be Smart team a call!

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