White space is any space on your web site or printed page that doesn’t have graphics or text. When people first try to create their own marketing materials, their first impulse is to not “waste” space, and they fill pages with information.
The best analogy I’ve read so far about why it’s important to incorporate white space in your materials, whether they’re in print or on the web, is from the book The Elements of Graphic Design, by Alex W. White.
“Imagine coffee being poured into a cup. If the cup is filled to the very top, it is difficult to avoid spilling it on yourself as you take the first sip. By having too much of a good thing, we have created a problem. This is exactly the same reaction readers have to being given too much information at once. It is perceived as a problem and their response is to avoid it.”
“Their response is to avoid it.” Oh boy, that’s not what we want. How can you communicate your marketing message if your audience avoids it?
Subtract to Add: Reverse Mathematics Makes it Accessible
The real reason to use white space is to make content scannable and easier to absorb. You want your readers to be able to take in your web site or printed piece in a glance, and understand its meaning quickly.
Surrounding your information with white space makes it look more accessible. Imagine the cup of coffee above if it was 3/4 full. It would look easier to handle, easier pick up, and easier to drink. Try to do the same with your information: surround it with white space so that your audience will want to interact with and consume your message.
This is the sixth in a series of ten lessons called “Design 101.”
The next lesson will be about grids and their role in design. An invisible grid is the lazy way to build a page.
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