As a designer, I am often asked to pack the maximum amount of information into the smallest possible amount of space - but beautiful design relies just as much on what is not there as it does on what is there.
It turns out “what is not there” has a name – white space. White space or “negative space” is the space between. White space isn’t always white – but it is always space. The practice of utilizing the “space between” has an important place in print design, web design, architectural design, city planning ... even the well-designed day can use white space. White space is costly, but oh so valuable. Here are four reasons you should give white space a fighting chance.
Improves Legibility and Comprehension
Here is a case where form and function will always compliment each other. We’ve all had to read one pagers that have been mercilessly stuffed with information, the quarter inch margins straining to contain an overabundance of information. A document that has generous margins and space between paragraphs, headers and imagery allows for clear hierarchy of information, which in turn increases comprehension. Research has shown that a good use of white space increases comprehension by almost 20%. My own research indicates that abusing margins increases the likelihood of a document ending up in the trash by at least 86.5%.
Focuses Your Message
Design is meant to promote and draw attention to an idea, to focus the viewer’s attention on a message. As often as you hear, “Less is More,” it’s a difficult lesson to learn when it’s your idea, your product, your message. The impulse is to give too much information to hammer home a point and take full advantage of whatever real estate you have access to. But if a design has no room to breathe – no white space – it may be good to stop and ask, “Is my message concise and focused?” Lack of white space can be an indication that your message may need further focus. Consider the search engine landing pages below. Which one of these says “I am a search engine?”
Projects Elegant, Modern, Luxurious
It’s a common misconception that more stuff translates into more designed and more for your money. However, it takes intentionality, control and time to create something clean that takes advantage of white space. The time it takes to limit design and take advantage of white space pays off when it communicates elegance, modernity and luxury. One of the teas below screams, “pick me, I’m exciting.” And one says, “pick me, I’m classy.”
Finally, my favorite use of white space: conceptual imagery. When the space outside of or around an image is treated with as much care and value as the image itself thing get really fun. Use white space well and you can say more and make your viewer feel smart. Do you see it?