Negative Space - Joe Vax - Guest Blogger

Welcome to Negative Space. I've been asked to write a column for all of you crafters concerning the fundamental principals of design, so let's dive right in. Whatever projects you’re working on, whatever materials you’re using, the more you understand about what makes good design work, the happier you’ll be with your results. After all, design is the art in arts & crafts.

When I was teaching, the first thing I would tell my students is to start paying attention (really paying attention) to all of the design around you. Everything, all the visual communications we are bombarded with daily, have been designed by someone. And not just graphic design, all design. Products, appliances, cars, clothes, architecture, furniture—it’s all designed. Most of it’s pretty bad, some of it’s pretty good, and a tiny percentage of it is great. Look for stuff that knocks you out and pay attention to the stuff you really dislike. Analyze all of it. It’s not enough to simply react positively or negatively, figure out why you love it or hate it. Ask yourself what the designer was trying to accomplish. Why did they choose that form? Why that color combination? Why that type face? Why so much texture? And of course a question commonly asked by clients, Why’s the damn logo so small?

The good, the bad and the ugly. Would someone tell me what was wrong with the original 1930s design of the Jefferson nickel? The new one is certainly no improvement. The latest incarnation of the five spot is embarrassing when you consider the truly beautiful currency found in other countries.

See what I mean? Gorgeous.

I believe that asking why is much more important than asking how. Whys are about the art, hows are about the craft. Hows are usually specific to the medium, whys are almost always applicable to anything you’re doing. So, start mentally digesting everything you see and building a library of whys. Once you learn to ask all the right whys, then you’ll want to ask: "What the hell were they thinking?"

I think what we’re saying here is obvious.

Next time, we’ll really start getting into some specific design principals,in fact we’ll look at the name of this column, negative space, and see how it relates to positive shapes. Until then, may your form always follow your function.

Photo of Joe Vax: Will Mosgrove


  1. Interesting ideas to think about. Thanks for the article. Looking forward to reading future posts.

  2. Paul, thank you for inviting Joe! And Joe, thank you for accepting! I really enjoyed your article and look forward to more. I love your descriptions of art and of craft. After reading that, I don't know how the two can be separated. Why the feud between what is "better", or "does this (insert artistic item) qualify as Art or as Craft"? It seems that all such items must be both. Done, feud over!