The Power of White Space in Web Design
Name a more powerful duo than white space and web design; we’ll wait… Still think of blank space as a waste of your page? We’re here to prove you wrong!
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Every design starts with a blank canvas, even web design. However tempting it may be to fill your empty page to the brim, here’s a gentle reminder: don’t. White space is your friend; we’re here to show you why.
To the untrained eye, blank space may seem like a waste of valuable real estate. You have a lot to say and show as a brand or a company, and only limited space is available on your web page.
If you’re tempted to fill your web page with buttons, stunning photography, and product descriptions, it may be time to take a step back. Realizing the power of white space, also known as negative space, will work wonders for your digital space.
“Good design is as little design as possible.” Dieter Rams
We’ll dive into the concept of white space and have your questions answered. Precisely what is white space, and why is white space important? You’re about to find out!
The lowdown on white space
First things first, let’s establish an answer to the question: “what is white space?”
White space in web design is the empty space surrounding a page's content and design elements. In short, the role of white space is to give a design room to breathe, preventing people from seeing an overload of information all at once.
When it comes to effective web design, white space is the glue that ties everything together. It helps simplify a layout, adds structure, and improves the overall flow of the page.
Though some people refer to white space as negative space, it is anything but a waste of space. The blank areas between other elements are what shape your web page into a cohesive whole.
Different types of white space
There are different classifications for white spaces. Contrary to its name, it doesn’t have to be white at all. White space comes in many forms and shapes. Depending on the usefulness and size of the area, you can group them into different categories:
Active vs. passive whitespace
Based on the usefulness of white space in graphic design, you can divide it into two types: active and passive.
Macro white space, on the other hand, is the space surrounding bigger elements. Think about graphics and columns. These spaces are often referred to as margins and padding in web design.
Micro white space is the emptiness surrounding small elements, such as text, icons, lines, and paragraphs. It has a direct effect on legibility.
Passive white space is the space that occurs naturally. Examples are the spaces in between words or the space surrounding a logo.
Active white space is the space that is intentionally created, making a conscious effort to structure and declutter a design.
Micro vs. macro white space
White space is commonly categorized based on density, meaning it depends on the ratio and proportions of the space versus the elements.
The benefits of white space
Now that our crash course in white space is done, we can move on to the following question: “why is white space important?”
According to marketing specialists, the average American sees anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 ads a day. That’s steep competition. Add up the fact that the first impression of your website is made in 50 milliseconds, and you understand why good web design is essential.
There are many rules you should adhere to when it comes to designing a web page. One of them is the proper usage of white space, a rule important enough to deserve its very own article.
White space plays a vital role in any design. Adding a healthy dose of blank space to your web design comes with a wealth of benefits:
Trying to get your message across with hard-to-read text? Forget about it. You must have some extremely valuable content if you want people to try and read illegible text. Still, your visitors will most likely leave frustrated.
If it takes effort to read the text on your web page, your spacing needs adjustment. Happy readers are far more likely to stick around on your web page.
Micro space surrounding text, lines, and paragraphs will contribute tremendously to an effortless reading experience.
Additionally, you need white space to cater to different visitors. If only everyone who visits your page came to read your text in-depth. The harsh reality is that most visitors want to scan the page and be on their way again or find the nearest call to action. This leads us to the next point…
Draw attention to call-to-action (CTA)
More than one study indicates that people tend to focus on the odd one out. The Von Restorff Effect states individuals take note of and remember unusual or unique things much quicker than other items.
Additionally, the gestalt principle “Law of Proximity” explains that elements in close proximity to each other are often overlooked. Imagine creating a stunning landing page, only to have your call-to-action dismissed. That would be a shame, wouldn’t it?
One easy way to avoid having the essential buttons on your page disappear in design is by putting a solid amount of space around them.
White space in design encourages visitors to interact by drawing their eyes to what’s important. This eliminates any distractions and provides a straightforward user journey. And that’s exactly our next point.
Improved user experience
A web page has different elements displayed that the user can interact with. In an interactive design like this, consciously leaving open space can help guide the user through.
White space leads to an improved user experience in multiple ways:
- Drive attention - Part of planning your website is prioritizing certain elements. One way to do this is by playing with the amount of space surrounding the so-called focal points.
- Visual hierarchy - White space in graphic design allows web designers to create a flow. Think of it as a path that the user’s eye will follow when scanning a web page.
- Create connections - Content relationships are defined by how close they are placed together.
Without the usage of white space, your design is like a cluttered desk. It’s usable, but it’s inefficient. It leaves visitors frustrated and with a bad impression of your brand.
The white space on a web page doesn’t just make it more enjoyable to use; it also makes the page more pleasant to look at. It makes for a harmonious and balanced layout.
Many high-end brands use a fair amount of blank space design, also known as minimalistic design. It creates a feeling of luxury and elegance.
Pair white space in web design with crisp typography and striking photography, and your design oozes luxury.
Examples of white space design done right
We could rave on about the power of white space for much longer. But we can also just show you. Time to feast your eyes on these stunning web pages filled with white space!
As one of the early adopters of using white space in web design, we had to put Apple at the top of the list. Time and time again, Apple and its web designers prove the power of minimalistic design.
Their homepage often features a single product. Due to the absence of other elements, your attention immediately draws to the product.
Cereal Magazine is renowned for its stripped-back minimalism in both its editorial layouts and web pages. The stylish magazine is a haven of inspiration for countless designers whose issues sell out quickly.
The page below is the product page of their New York Guidebook. By consciously spacing a large area around the guide book rather than displaying just the book, it gives a feeling of elegance and exclusivity.
White space is your best friend if you sell a service that requires an explanation. Squarespace is brilliant at utilizing space to let its design breathe.
One of the content blocks on their homepage explains the steps someone should take to use their service. By adding large numbers, creating space between the headers and the text, and spacing the call-to-action a bit further down, they’ve created a comprehensible list of steps packed with information.
Remember how we said white space doesn’t actually have to be white? Case in point: Foam Museum. When it comes to art, leaving surroundings as empty as possible will amplify the visual impact an artwork makes.
On their homepage, they highlight exhibitions that are currently on. Instead of using white, they use a black background. This immediately draws your attention to the photograph.
If you're looking for a way to play with contrast and add in a dramatic effect, negative space paired with a black background does the trick.
Consciously deciding to add space into your web design is a great decision. It helps to simplify a layout and improves the customer-experience in multiple ways. Furthermore, white space helps drive attention to certain elements over others, adds visual hierarchy and defines content relationships.
White space is a powerful tool in the toolbox of web designers. It may look like blank space to the untrained eye, but by now, you know that the opposite is true. White space is anything but a waste. When used correctly, it acts as the glue holding different elements together, turning the design into a cohesive whole.
Simone is a writer, dividing her time between native Netherlands and 'home away from home' Malawi. Whenever not stringing words together, she's either on her yoga mat or exploring any off the beaten track she can find.