What do you see in this image? Of course you see slices of an orange. But there is much more to this image than just slices of an orange. Look again; you see slices of an orange and a whole lot of nothing. Well that nothing has a name and a VERY important purpose. That nothing is called white space and I want to teach you why it is a good thing and why you shouldn’t get rid of it.
In the art and design world white space refers to the area of a design that is “blank.” It is sometimes called negative space. It helps call attention to the things that need to be seen. It adds contrast and can balance out an image. I was once taught that “white space celebrates the things within it” and that’s why we should celebrate the white space.
It adds emphasis to what is most important. A place for the eyes to relax and rest. It is open and inviting. White space. Oh how I love you!
Okay so that was weird, BUT really I do love white space and so should you. Too often when people aren’t aware of what white space is or that it is a GOOD thing they try to fill it up with stuff. MORE content, make things BIGGER, etc. This often leads to things feeling cluttered and heavy. When everything is shouting so loudly, nothing can be heard. Things start to compete for attention without good contrast.
Margins on a page are considered white space. Imagine a page of text where the text is right up against the edge of the document with no space. The columns of text have no space between them. Every last inch of the page is just filled in with something. It would be nearly impossible to read and just feel awful.
White space generally is unmarked parts of the page but doesn’t necessarily mean that the area is white. It could be a solid color, a subtle texture, or other things. What makes white space white space is that it is essentially a blank slate. An area to offset the weight of the content. Remember however that overuse of whitespace can make a design feel incomplete, but it is far more common for people to not use enough white space than it is for them to use too much. I’d always error on the side of using more white space than less.
Start looking for white space in things around you. You will find that there is quite a bit of white space in nature. A large blue sky above a mountain range, a calm lake next to a forest of trees. Look at designs that just feel good and then notice how they utilize white space. I would bet that the best feeling designs you find will use white space really well.
So next time you are working with a designer and you see an “empty” area, avoid the impulse to “make it bigger” “put some text in that empty spot” or whatever you might think the design needs. Think to yourself, how does that whitespace help emphasize what is most important in this design?
Celebrate the whitespace because it celebrates what’s in it!
Here’s a great link to another article about white space and how it is used in webdesign: