Figure and ground are some of the most important concepts of graphic design and has been a tool for artists (like MC Escher) to develop intricate patterns. Think of figure and ground in terms of layers: the ground layer would be the most bottom and the figure layer would be everything on top. Any space taken up by the figure is considered positive space and everything else besides that is considered negative space. Negative space can actually have it’s own shape (depending on the shape of the figure) to create ambiguous patterns and to make the piece complex. Look at this logo for example: the blue is the established ground while the white is the figure. But because of that little deardrop on the left side of the a, there is also a little blue “s” made up of the negative space.
In this example, the negative space is being used in a practical way. This means that the negative space is being used to fulfill a job; the “s” helps spell out the work, “usa.” Without the negative space the logo wouldn’t work.
The simplicity of the letters make the logo easy to identify at any size, which is perfect for logos because you want them to be seen everywhere and anywhere. The logo takes up less space than it has to because the use of negative space makes the “s” nonexistent.
Another purpose for negative space (not shown in the logo) would be ornamental. This means using the empty shapes to add extra patterns and even texture to the figure. In ornamental, the negative space compliments the figure without being its own separate identity.