The principle of the signal-to-noise ratio reminds us that each element of a slide can only be two things: either a useful signal or noise. One of the most effective ways to remove all disturbing factors is the use of white space—also known as empty space or negative space—which is the empty area of a slide.
The benefit of this technique is that it makes slides clearer and therefore helps the audience focus on what’s important.
Let’s use the Rubin Vase as an example to understand white space.
Do you see a vase or two faces? If you see two faces it means that the white area of the image acts as negative space while the black area acts as a positive element. If you see a vase, it’s the black area that acts as negative space. What does this mean? It means that negative space is a real design element, like an image, a graph or a text. It amplifies the positive elements of a design more than anything else. Without negative space an audience can’t focus on what’s important. Therefore, white space is not wasted space but an integral part of a design. Remember that the use (or improper use) of negative space is what more than anything else determines the functionality of a presentation.
One of the most common mistakes people make is to fill their slides with lots of graphic elements. But a slide is not a drawing to be painted so don’t let yourself be carried away by the temptation to fill all the available space on a slide.
Why do most people use Google as a search engine as opposed to Yahoo!? Because Google's design is more effective—there’s plenty of negative space that allows you to focus on the only thing you want to do when you are on that platform: an internet search. If I'm looking for the Premier League results, I don’t want to know what the weather looks like tomorrow or what Theresa May said on TV.
Luxury stores also structure their interiors with a lot of empty space, unlike Poundlands that suffocate products one on top of the other. Empty space is synonymous with order and makes a store more elegant—it highlights the most important products. It’s an intentional choice you should get inspiration from when designing slides: more space, more elegance.
If you want to learn more about how to make better presentations, download my report Top 7 Mistakes People Make When Creating Business Presentations.