Whitespace: The Power Player

Whitespace: The Power Player

Note: Recently, unbeknown to the other, Melissa and Lisa each wrote down their thoughts about the concept of "whitespace"— that's how important of a design element it is. The following is Melissa's take; you can read Lisa's perspective here.

Whitespace, or negative space, is a design element that comes into play on every page you read, and every website you visit (even if you aren’t consciously aware of it or don’t know what the term means). How whitespace is used, affects how you perceive what you see at many levels.

Look at these two documents, both pages have the exact same content, but one is unstyled, and one is designed to lead your eye through the content calling out headings, supportive information, and specially emphasized material. The choice of font type, size, weight, and color are at work, but spacing within the page and between its elements is influencing the look and feel as well.

Macro whitespace describes the larger areas between elements, while micro whitespace refers to the smaller spaces — between lines, and even in between individual letters.

It’s a temptation to think of whitespace as docile, empty, unused, leftover space. But whitespace is actually a powerful player in the layout of every website and printed piece. Why? 1. Whitespace is a janitor. Too many elements scattered hither and yon can make a page look confusing and overwhelming. Whitespace can help to make a page feel clean, uncluttered, and inviting — and at the most basic level, easier to read.

2. Whitespace is a director. It takes charge and shows the eye where to start and how to progress through the page, assigning levels of importance and pacing, by how it unites or isolates the different elements.

3. Whitespace is an interior decorator. It looks the space over and aides in arranging things in a way that is appealing and effective. It establishes balance and gives visual relief.

4. Whitespace is a fairy god mother. Lavish a page with ample whitespace and it’s like waving a magic wand and assigning instant value. Luxury and sophisication are associated with space, while crowded layouts are identified with the in-your-face sales pitch of a used car salesman.

5. Whitespace is an equal opportunity employer. In other words, whitespace isn’t just white. It can come in any color or be found in any image. Even when the image is full of content, an area of focus can act as the content, while the surrounding background can act as whitespace.

So as you browse the web, or flip through a magazine, as you drive past billboards or watch tv, open your eyes to the many ways that whitespace is not an afterthought but rather a primary device used to enhance the meaning of the message.