Figure/Ground: Jacob Granneman

The revered FedEx logo. Quite possibly one of the most inconspicuous and famous uses of figure/ground, (positive/negative space). The multiple layers of interpretation are key to the designs success. I must admit, it took me many years of staring right at it to finally see the arrow created by the negative space between then “E” and “x.” Ultimately, it creates an easter egg of design that pushes the logo to the top of the collective branding mind.

Figure/ground, or positive and negative space, is the creation of more shapes and characters by the absence of another shape or character. It happens when one or more elements are placed closely together and in the space they leave uncovered, a new shape appears. The mind can toggle between the two, creating a multiverse of design, and a optical illusion. Use of negative and positive space, shows mastery of the craft, and a high level of attention to detail.

The purpose of such compositions varies wildly. While some are meant for pure entertainment, like many optical illusion designs, others, like FedEx, create powerful practical brands that are instantly recognizable. Good use of figure/ground can make designs like logos, much more memorable. When the viewer first looks at the design they say, “Oh, that’s a nice logo. I like the colors,” or something else silly like that. Then the see the expertly placed illusion of the negative space; “Wait! What!? The ‘E’ and the… No way! That is so… Clever!”

In other words, the ambiguity of the design gives the viewer a little challenge visually, and thus they have a unique interactive experience to remember. In the world of marketing and branding, this type of design can mean the difference between being a multibillion dollar company, and just another podunk job that eight people follow on Facebook.

About Jacob Granneman

Jacob has been the Multimedia Editor for The Clark College Independent. He is also an improvisational actor and enjoys all forms of writing and videography. Find more of his work at or at
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