White Space & the Importance of Clarity

By Sally Edwards

An article review looking at whitespace and its importance.

From a designer’s best friend to a novice’s nightmare, white space should be a major consideration when doing any design work. White space, put simply, is the area on your design that has nothing in it. It doesn’t even have to be white, just empty. Empty space - sounds bad, right? Wrong. White, or negative, space is one of the most crucial elements when it comes to design work. From making sure your text is eligible and organising the hierarchy on your page to creating imaginative designs for your logo, whitespace is key to ensuring your design is appealing to your audience. So, where do you begin? Well, below is a review of a handy little article put together by Steven Bradley, a freelance web designer, who sort to educate the world on whitespace and its uses.

Opening the article with a quote from Frank Zappa and comparing white space to being like that of the space between notes in music works as a clever metaphor for the crucial role that white space plays when it comes to design. Steven likens lack of whitespace to being ‘noise’ and introduces the idea that without white space the design components become lost in the flurry of information that is trying to be conveyed.

The Basics.

The article continues to break down the three main uses of white space into: putting your elements into groups, identifying the most important parts of the design and making the text easier for your viewers to read. Steven explains how these three elements create continuity within your design and allows the space to give your readers a rest to absorb information. The design element that allows both easy absorption of information as the design is not overly cluttered and at the same time guides your audience on where to pay attention to.

The article continues to break down the three main uses of white space into: putting your elements into groups, identifying the most important parts of the design and making the text easier for your viewers to read.

Once done with a collective overview of the use of white space, Steven moves to identifying types of white space and the parts that they play in helping make a design an effective communicator of information. Steven identifies the two types as “micro” and “macro” whitespace. He explains that micro whitespace is what makes the text eligible to the reader and that macro whitespace is how to separate elements in your design to determine the amount of emphasis on each item in the design. 

Fluid, Fixed or Too Much?

The article then moves on to identify fixed and fluid layouts and then discuss the pros and cons. Steven points out that having a more fluid design for your web page means less control over how the whitespace will work across different platforms and appears to take a, understandably, less favourable stance towards fluid website design. The reasoning here is that fluid design means that the whitespace is not fixed and, as Steven explains, means that when a browser size changes the whitespace can drastically be affected and become an unpleasurable experience for your readers.

Naturally, Steven goes on to answer the question on everyone's mind - can you have too much whitespace? Steven argues that most people would not complain about too much whitespace but that it does come down to the content and how the information is delivered. He uses a well known example of the mobile phone and how some designs that have not been optimised and therefore leave the consumer with just a blank screen, as the medium has not been thought about. The examples are a useful consideration when coming to design and he argues both sides with information graphics needing to be tightly packed to convey information whilst not too dense that the information becomes ineligible and therefore useless.

Overall, an interesting piece to convey the importance of whitespace and how to identify and incorporate it into your work to benefit the end user. With a discussion on the different benefits of whitespace and the ideas they can convey to differentiating between macro and micro whitespace, the article is a useful overview of whitespace and how to control it to improve your designs. Simple enough for anyone new to design or anyone looking for a refresher, this article is definitely worth the 10 minutes it will take you to read it, so grab a cup of tea and a biscuit and enjoy.