Design starts with a blank page, but it should not necessarily end with a full one.
White space, or negative space, is a fundamental design element that improves both the form and the function of artwork. Sadly, white space in advertising is often seen as wasted space. The thinking is that all space should be used to house information or design elements.
What is white space in terms of design and why is it vital?
White space is the open space in designs that surrounds other elements. It is also the space within individual design elements, such as the spacing between letters or rows of text. It is any open space, even if it contains a colour or texture, as long as the space does not require focus.
White space is an invaluable tool in retaining viewer attention and improving design communication.
Micro white space, such as the space between lines and paragraphs or within grids, has a direct impact on legibility. It offers breathing room and pauses, which affect reading speed and comprehension. According to research, this type of white space increases comprehension by almost 20%. It can also group relevant elements together.
Macro white space, on the other hand, is the larger open space between design elements. This is often the area that is tempting to fill with more information. However, the simplicity of including white space in a design means that there is less clutter, which in turn means less work for the eyes and mind. This leads to increased focus and prevents cognitive fatigue (information overload).
White space also impacts the branding message of a company. Using larger amounts of white space can suggest a higher budget, as advertising space is expensive, especially when it is not filled with sales information. One prime example would be the branding of Apple products. For this reason, white space is often associated with a higher quality product.
There is also a differentiation between active and passive white space. Active white space is used to enhance the structure and hierarchy of a design. It provides directional cues that point towards the most important elements. Surrounding an item with white space can be just as effective to creating attention, as it would be to make something larger. This takes place as larger distances force more attention.
Passive white space is the space that occurs naturally, such as the spaces between words or paragraphs. It is instrumental in guiding users in terms of content order or flow and has a direct impact on user experience.
Designing, therefore, is not only the arranging of information, but the arranging of space as well. As such, the art of saying nothing can be just as strong a design strategy.
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Written by Melanie Evert: Art Director, The Blue Room