There is a concept in the visual arts known as horror vacui or ‘fear of empty space’.
The term was originally used by Italian art critic and scholar Mario Praz to describe the suffocating atmosphere and clutter of interior design in the Victorian age (Wikipedia). This was an architectural criticism that spoke to perceived environmental discomfort – ironically, intentional (discomfort). And, this “discomfort” actually took work, (a ton of work) to create! These ‘suffocating’ environments were rich and overloaded with detail, with thought, and with… intent.
What was missing though, at the time, was the understanding of the psychological impact of ‘void’ and the value of ‘space’.
The Modern (educated) understanding of the term is now an “inverse” relationship between horror vacui and value perception.
Empty Space doesn’t equal Emptiness
There is a natural tendency for humans to fill “voids” instead of respecting them. We fill our closets, our pantries, our storage units and our lives (for that matter) with clutter not because we need it all, but because we have ‘room’. We have become incapacitated by capacity. Our Amazon cart may technically be empty, but how many items do we have ‘saved for later’ so that we can “fill” it back up instantly with a click of ‘add to cart’?
As designers, we need to embrace the value that is void and A.Void. Avoid fearing meaningless emptiness or meaningless fullness, for that matter. Instead, we need to intentionally implement void and give ourselves and our users the chance to perceive value.
Value Nothing, It (could be) Everything
It is true that modern sophistication has developed appreciation of understatement. As we have educated ourselves (as designers), we have come to our ‘senses’. Value is better understood via void, via emphasis. For void renders appreciation.
I had a professor in one of my early introduction to architecture studio courses explain value and void to me in a way, well, a way both men and women can appreciate. He asked if we (a class – full of gen-“xxx”ers) would be more intrigued to see a beautiful woman in a black bikini on a beach or a beautiful woman ‘fully’ naked on the same beach. His answer was actually the woman in the black bikini (I know – SURPRISE!)? See… the woman in the bikini still has a story to tell… she still has undiscovered value. In her understatement, she evokes wonder and intrigue but the viewer is able to establish value via void (in this case via the black bikini).
In the era of Praz, ‘more’ (things) equaled affluence, but now we are fortunate to embrace a time where experiences are perceived as ‘more’ and ‘less’ may even be perceived as ‘better’ (Millennial credit here)…
So, designers… Start with too many ideas and eliminate. Eliminate your clutter. From your pantry, from your storage unit, from your projects, from your lives. Embrace the trend. Challenge yourselves to paint clutter ONE color – and eliminate the distractions.
Or… Don’t? Keep it and I dare you (Suzie)… to pull a chair from the bottom!