To know what it is not. Defining negative space as a… | by Dennis Knopf | October, 2022

Defining negative space as a technique in product management.

Sometimes going in the wrong direction helps you move forward. 
In this article we will look at examples and draw conclusions for the design and development process of products.


I once worked in a fashion/e-commerce company. One day I was pulled into a workshop inside one of its fancy meeting rooms, which had walls and Vitra furniture. A team of well-dressed business people was stuck: they had to come up with a concept description for a new type of service.

All the people in charge, with their indoor scarves and exquisite hair, seemed drab, struggling to define the main aspects of the new service. With so many cool options in hand—her beautifully manicured hands—it was impossible for her to decide whether to go for option A, B or C.

I followed the conversation from the back of the room. As their discussion intensified, one of them turned to me with great anticipation. Everyone suddenly stopped talking. “What is the plan you Thinking?”

Above the perfume mix in the room, I replied that, if it’s too hard to decide what the thing is. should Maybe they can start by clearly describing what it’s supposed to do *No* Happen.

You know, like Rick Astley: instead of listing all the ways in which he would treat you right, he sings about how he would never treat you unfairly.

Rick will never treat you right*

Man, I remember his facial expressions. Guess what happened?
We will come back to this story in a moment.

“catch 22”

Sometimes it’s hard to decide between too many valid options. Not only at work, but anywhere in life: the infinite possibilities can lead to writer’s block.
When under stress, our brain shifts control from the cerebral cortex to the limbic system that is responsible for spontaneous behavior and quick decisions, such as the fight-or-flight response. In other words: no more creative achievements are expected from your cerebral cortex.

Needless to mention that it is even more frightening that there is no alternative.
We have all been at some point in our lives:
No way, zero options, a “catch-22”.
Oh no! What are we to do? How do we get out of limbic limbo?

As you guessed, there is a solution. A cheat code for both situations, whether it’s too many or no options:

Go the opposite. Take the counter-spontaneous route. Full speed in the other direction. Flip the script. opposite of this. How crazy does that sound It works.

It works in all kinds of situations:

  • Stuck in an urgent task?
    take a break. It may seem like wasting precious time but you will come back and look at things from a different angle.
  • feeling cold?
    → Go take a cold shower. Not just a little cold, we’re talking ice-cold. Your body will immediately turn on the internal heat and anything after that will feel hot.
  • Having trouble explaining to your child?
    → just tell them No To do what you want them to do. Reverse psychology is an age-old trick. I you dare to try it…
  • hung on?
    Take counter beer (or a Bloody Mary),

The list continues. This obviously doesn’t apply to all situations in general. Think about what’s there to lose when you’re really stuck and give it a try. Let’s look at some more examples.

1) Example in History

There are many examples in history where doing the opposite of an obvious choice worked:

  • During World War II, a statistician named Abraham Wald was asked to advise that the British should strengthen the armor on their bombers to reduce aircraft losses. Wald analyzed the damage distribution of the returning bombers. Instead of recommending adding armor to the places where returning aircraft suffered the most, Wald suggested reinforcing the parts that showed no damage. They felt that those impacts resulted in the bombers not returning home.
  • While the journalists and photographers all rushed to the hospital to report Albert Einstein’After his death, only one photographer went directly to Einstein’s office to take the now iconic photo of his desk as he left it.
Survival Bias, Einstein’s Distinguished Office
  • From the 1730s until the late 20th century, coal miners used canaries as a counter alarm: once their chirps let the miners know that the air quality was at a critical level…

2) in popular culture

  • in a Disney movie cars (2006), Doc Hudson told Lightning McQueen:
    “If you’re going too hard to the left, you’ll find yourself turning right”, teaching him how to drift as a winning move.
“If you’re going left hard enough, you’ll find yourself turning right.” – Cars, 2006
  • In Ghost Busters (1984), the only way to defeat “Gozer the Goozerian”, the god of destruction, is to break the Ghostbusters blasters’ rule of never crossing energy streams.
  • Composition by experimental composer John Cage 4′33 Famous for including a single note of music. Four minutes 33 seconds of silence. The void is filled by the thoughts of the audience. Performance becomes media art: attention moves away from the stage into the audience’s surroundings. Kage, who was said to have been in Zen Buddhism, called it his most important work.
  • In storytelling, the protagonist will often find a contrasting counterpart to his or her traits.

3) In Marketing

In the same way as highlighting the compelling features of a product, it is all about pointing out. Not there or just does not include,

No Sugar, No Meat, No Gluten, No Butter, No Additives, No GMOs

“Art is a lie, but it is a lie from which we know the truth.”
– Pablo Picasso

4) in rhetoric / conflict

This can have a lot more impact than trying to make a point that is clearly contrary to what you are saying. Satire is often much stronger than a good argument in the form of a blatantly opposite statement.

woochicken i was living with whitest baby you know (e) I was asked in New York why we loved the German David Hasselhoff so much. There seems to be a stereotype that Americans are obsessed! I was asked about it at parties, I was asked about it at the bar, I was asked about it on the plane. Whenever I tried to discredit the image of half-loving Germans I plunged into endless discussions. No one wanted to hear what I said. I was quite disappointed till one day, I tried the opposite. I was so fed up with the question that I replied “The Germans love him so much because David Hasselhoff is the greatest living actor, singer and nicest man who ever walked this planet.”
was there. The answer that turned out to be completely satisfying to everyone. People will smile admitting their question is rubbish. I was free Instead of refusing, I overwhelmingly accepted, and succeeded.
It was troublesome. Anti Hoff.

“Opposite Day”, The Whitest Kids You’ve Known

If you get into a fight and your opponent doesn’t believe in the ‘opposite day’:
Instead of trying to block an attack/stop the attacker’s movement a martial artist would increase the attacker’s force and use it to throw off balance. I

“When you are strong you appear weak, and when you are weak you are strong.”
– Sun Tzu (The Art of War)

5) in life

Some situations are like finger traps: only the exact opposite of your instinct can set you free, or even save your life. to like No Attempt to extinguish the burning fat with water. Stanislav Petrov saved the whole world by doing the opposite of what he was about to do, disobeying orders against Soviet military protocol. The entire universe is held together by opposite forces. Hell, there’s even a Seinfeld episode called “The Opposite.”

The examples are endless:

  • teasing as a sign of affection
  • “opposites attract”
  • Traveling a Thousand Miles to Appreciate Your Home
  • To improve the taste of hot chocolate, add a little salt to it
  • The duality of yin and yang as opposite concepts
  • It is the hub that makes a wheel usable. It is the holes that make a house habitable. It is the pause that serves as a rhythm.
  • You’ll only have 2 hands free when you’re ready to go
  • The Jedi are at the root of all evil as they have thrown the universe out of balance which created the dark side to begin with…

,[…] Matters of great concern should be taken lightly. […] Matters of minor concern should be taken seriously.”
– Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

6) in meetings

Gerald Heusch explains how you can increase the effectiveness of a meeting by telling yourself *No* going to talk about. Hüsch groups serve objectives in 9 categories: facilitation, problem definition, goal setting, ideas and alternatives, evaluation, decision making, implementation, review and appreciation. He claims that the root cause of unproductive meetings is mixing those categories into a single conversation. To prevent this, he suggests announcing the purpose of a meeting at the beginning. should then clearly indicate which categories will be abandoned, Most importantly, he talks about getting buy-ins from all meeting participants. For example:
“In this meeting, we will talk about ideas and options. We will not discuss or take any decision. Is that okay for you?” As soon as someone falls into the unwanted category, the meeting should be returned to its official purpose.

07) In Design

There are countless examples of using negative space creatively as part of a design, as in these famous examples:

08) in Product Management

One of the main challenges of a product manager is learning to see things User point of view, Unbeknownst to any thoughts and ideas put into the product, how will the user see it? they will have a complete opposite view on the product and make up your mind. Regardless of how your product might be used in all the best ways- will they even bother? It helps to find all possible arguments against The proposed price of your product.

We have already seen how to write a clear product vision to help you focus your activities. In addition to defining what your product has to offer, you should also collect all the reasons why people most likely won’t use your product. What is it that your product fails to deliver?

to know what it is not

Let’s return to the story of the Beautiful Product People (PPP) and their dilemma workshop. You know, those with tight pants and a blurry concept from the beginning of the article. Turns out they could all describe exactly what their concept *shouldn’t* be. Then all they had to do was reverse their detailed description.

This technique can be very helpful. Uncovering the negative space of something can shine new light on the real thing itself.

“I created a vision of David in my heart, and carved out what was not David.”
– Michelangelo

From business strategy to brand identity, from target audience to visual design. Be sure of all the directions you don’t want to go, everything you want to avoid. The more detailed the negative image, like the shape of the mold/cast, the better.

Don’t worry the next time you get stuck. Whether your prototype sucks or your concept flies: give it a try and go in the opposite direction, Just like leaf blowers and vacuum cleaners do the exact opposite, in the end they both serve the same purpose.

“Failure usually works out for me in the end.”
— David Hasselhoff

By the way. i am a product person future forms ️, a design and development studio in Germany. Swing by and say hello! I want to thank everyone who gave me pointers and examples for this article.

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