• Adam Morris

The Importance of White Space in Design

Updated: Nov 29, 2018

The principles of effective design have been practiced for decades, and using the principles effectively demonstrates an understanding of design that appeals to the human eye. The wheel does not need to be reinvented, and as famous designer Paul Rand stressed, "Don't try to be original. Just try to be good". With that being said, it's important to not only know the fundamentals of Graphic Design, but when and where to use them. The principle of white space plays a key role in creating functional, pleasing layouts and designs. The following post outlines its importance in Graphic Design.

White Space Creates Clarity

Oftentimes, companies try to say everything, to everyone - all of the time. To account for this, proper Marketing and Design helps to distill messages to their core and simplify them for easier understanding. However, not all companies simplify their Marketing and Design as much as necessary. Graphic Design plays a role in distilling key information, simplification of that information, and finally expressing it in a visual form. The proper use of white space allows a poster, for example, to immediately distinguish between content that needs to be received by the viewer, and all other design elements. It can also isolate certain elements as the focal point. Without white space, a crowded design leads to overwhelm, as discussed in the next paragraph. The negative feeling of overwhelm then becomes misattributed to the event, business, etc. as a whole, which is never good for building trust and reputation.

In this poster example, a generous amount of white space surrounds the cupcake. By doing so, the cupcake serves as the focal point to draw the viewer in, with no competing design elements.

White Space Alleviates Overwhelm

A significant portion of designing for any type of audience is to evoke an emotional response. With that being said, negative emotions are almost always to be avoided, unless negativity or perhaps irony are part of a brand's values. Nevertheless, it's safe to say that the goal of any type of design is to inspire positive feelings, so that these feelings will over time become associated with the organization as a whole. The use of white space allows for easier reading of content, because ultimately, dense, crowded design is perceived as overwhelming and sometimes as if you're being yelled at; and no one likes being yelled at. White space eases the viewer's experience when interacting with a piece of Graphic Design, and within written copy, provides a more inviting feel at first glance and while reading.

Which Letter would you rather read? The first Letter is open and inviting thanks to generous margins and white space, while the second is crammed and uninviting.

White Space Directs the Eye

A pivotal goal of Graphic Design is to guide the reader where to look and what to look at first based on multiple design principles. These principles include scale, hierarchy, contrast, and repetition. White space, however, serves a role in the sense that it's "nothingness" helps to direct the eye to where the viewer should be looking. If a viewer has a hard time distinguishing where to look on the page, he or she will misattribute this tension and negative experience with the brand as a whole. To avoid this, the intentional use of white space helps to direct the viewer's eye to where they should be looking on the page.

Volkswagen's famous "Think small." advertisement is a widely-referenced example of white space. The majority of the design is dedicated to white space which further highlights the small size of the car and accompanying tagline's message.

White Space Causes a "Smile in the Mind"

Humans constantly look for meaning. Whether it's the meaning of life, the meaning of a text message, or the meaning of a logo, our search for meaning fuels our curiosity. In the case of Logo Design, white space or negative space (what "isn't there") has the ability to create an aesthetically-pleasing design. While the viewer may not understand the purpose of the negative space at first, he or she will eventually figure it out through an "Aha!" moment. It feels good to figure things out on our own, and because of this, the positive feeling (or "smile in the mind") associated with the "Aha!" moment will become misattributed to the brand. Any positive feeling, whether attributed or misattributed to a brand is a step in the right direction, especially when building customer relationships based on trust.

FedEx's arrow between the "E" and "x", Yoga Australia's loose representation of Australia's land, and the NBC peacock's head and body are each clever uses of negative space.

An understanding of design principles apply to any field of design. When it comes to Graphic Design, the principles that ease the viewer's cognition and experience with the design are of utmost importance. As explained and demonstrated, white space and negative space play a key role in the creation of design that sticks. In the end, what you don't see is just as important and intentional as what you do see. ▲


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