Artists and writers dread looking at a the white space on a blank page.
That moment just before they touch the brush to canvas, or type the first letter on the screen can seem like an eternity.
For a designer, a blank page is just potential that’s waiting to be utilized.
If you’re not used to working with white space, it might seem unnerving to figure out how to use it.
But white space is full of delicious possibilities if you look at it the right way.
White space is delectable openness
Like fresh snow, or a brand-new container of vanilla ice cream, the untouched page is full of possibilities.
Where should you start making your mark? How can you turn open space into a functional element on your page?
First, the edges
When used right, open space complements and enhances your content, whether it’s text, photos or both.
The first place to add white space is around the edges of your page.
This has the same effect as a matte around a piece of artwork: it frames and highlights your content.
Then, the important stuff
Think through what you’d like to highlight on your page. When you know what your headline is, where your subheads will appear, and what images you plan to use, you can harness space to emphasize these important elements.
Add space above and below a headline to draw your readers’ eyes to it. Space above (and sometimes below) subheads helps, too. More on formatting your content here.
When placing images on a page, add drama by surrounding them with white space. Adding space around an image is like putting it on a pedestal: you can’t take your eyes off of it.
Watch out for “trapped” white space
We read from left to right, and our eyes naturally gravitate toward the upper left corner of a page or screen. This is “prime real estate,” and should be used for your most important information.
If you’re deciding where extra space should fall, it’s usually safe to add it along the bottom of the page.
Avoid “trapping” space within your important content.
Here are two examples:
In the first example, you can see white space is used to emphasize the content by serving as a frame for the text and images. The page looks like it will be comfortable to read: it’s spacious and not crammed with information.
Notice that there’s extra space at the ends of the columns of text. Imagine that the headline is a curtain rod, and the columns of text are “hanging” from the rod. It’s more important that the columns line up along the top. Uneven sight lines along the bottom don’t distract from the overall effect.
In the second example, the columns are lined up along the bottom. The space is “trapped” within the content. This is usually a bad idea: it distracts and has a negative effect on readability.
When space is trapped in the middle of content, it’s like an air bubble.
Take the air bubble and squeeze it out of your layout: move it to the bottom or outside so that your content “sticks” together as a unit.
This will help your important information to be perceived as a whole, and will enhance your readers’ experience.
Are you afraid of the void?
Do you find white space confusing?
Learning to harness space on a page is like learning anything else: trial and error are key, and it does get easier over time.
A good place to start experimenting with white space is to use wider borders on your pages. This will highlight your content and make it look more approachable.
Don’t delay: start using the power of white space in your marketing materials today!
7 thoughts on “Beautiful Nothingness: The Power of White Space”
Good information and reminder, Pamela. I actually love working with white space but don’t get too many opportunities.
Thanks, Kim. It’s hard to carve that space out, but worth it when you have it.
Great advice. One thing I constantly need to remind myself is that in order to keep my designs simple and readable I need to stay focused on expressing one idea per page. When I begin cross-referencing ideas, writing “asides”, or over-explaining myself–my pages tend to get long, dense, and messy. I’m going to keep your ideas in mind the next time I write, edit and design. Thanks.
Thanks for the comment, Jesse. It isn’t always easy to do, but you’re right: keeping it simple works best most of the time.
The space article is right-on.It’s a whole dimension
which isn’t even considered,its very subtractive,
minimalist;-and has the effect of highlighting the headline.
Its for these reasons I enjoy :New York Times.
It has everything,voidness, brilliant nothingness-and
that’s just the look-apply white to content,you have everything.
Well,enough to float my boat. Very nice thinking Pamela.
Thank you. Servian Gray
You know what’s really cool about the NYT? The ads that use a lot of white space pop right off the page!
I’m sure it’s hard for ad agencies to convince their clients to not fill every available inch of their ads with information, especially when they’re paying those ad rates. But when they leave the space open, your eyes go right to it: they can’t resist.
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