I have originally came across “1 + 1 = 3 or more” from Edward Tufte’s Envisioning Information. The following is my understanding and how it relates to some of the core concepts that I subscribe to in design.
Consider these two black lines: =
We see two objects from those lines. But, a third object, the whitespace, emerges in between. The whitespace is also known as the negative space (closer the lines to one another, greater the impact).
Now, consider these two different lines, one over another: +
We see either two long lines or four short lines. We also see four white squares (or triangles) at the edges.
Negative or empty space is everywhere; type design, relationship of objects, role of silence in music, empty space in architecture. It can be helpful or harmful.
When it comes to designing interfaces or writing code, my general approach is to add things only when necessary, until I reach the right balance.
In contrast, some designers prefer to remove things from their design until they reach an intended result.
One approach is not better than the other; after all, we do both whenever we need to. However, I think, addition, as opposed to subtraction, reflects our everyday life experiences. That is, we usually do things on a need to do basis, due to the restrictions imposed by our physical limitations in the environment.
This approach tells me to stick to a general guideline:
- Take care of the number of things happening in the design. In other words, minimize the viewer’s (or user’s) cognitive load. The eye needs to rest as much as possible.
- Add, when you must.
- Ensure that structure does not compete with content.
Related concepts that might interest you: