The Case for White Space

As one of the most important and, many times underused, principals in creating effective communications and compelling designs, White Space is often misunderstood outside of the design community. As a professional communicator and visual designer with more than 15 years experience I’ve heard a wealth of condemning comments regarding that “wasted space on the page.” The truth is, White Space is one of the most valuable parts of a design.

To start at the beginning I should define what is meant by the term White Space. Also referred to as “negative space,” White Space indicates those areas within a design that are left unoccupied by image, copy or content — the actual color of that space is irrelevant. White Space includes any blank areas surrounding graphics, copy, images or content as well as the page margins, gutters, column or paragraph spacing and even the area between lines of copy. It is this absence of content that allows for clear communication of ideas, focusing of attention, and comprehension of materials. Without White Space to create a visual break and highlight importance, vital information will be lost.

White Space helps to both unify page content as well as separate it. The strategic and thoughtful application of White Space increases readability. Research published in “Reading Online Text: A Comparison of Four White Space Layouts” showed that reading comprehension was markedly increased in the layouts with greater areas of White Space and those layouts were preferred by the viewers. In a study conducted by the Nielsen/Norman Group results showed that readers recalled 34% more content and comprehension increased by 12% when a reader “…is comfortable, not hindered by clutter and superfluous words and can scan the main points.” Sensitive use of spacing assists in singling out and featuring essential content and messaging.

Going beyond readability and comprehension, well-implemented White Spaces play a direct role in establishing the hierarchy of a visual composition. White Space creates focus and emphasizes content. It leads the viewers’ eye through the presented information in a calculated and strategic manner. The more White Space surrounding an object or piece of copy, the greater pull it will have in directing the attention of a viewer. Layouts that lack adequate White Space result in a loss of focus from the viewer which hinders reception of the message. Consequently, visual coherence can be lost and the goal of the design with it.

White Space is hardly wasted space. White Space demands attention and creates significance. It is a champion for the page — the cheerleader behind the content. White Space makes the viewer want to continue to look at the page, focuses their interest and creates an enjoyable user experience. White Space plays a critical role in design — treat it with the reverence it deserves.

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