Web Design 101: The Power of White Space

Geri Mileva on Marketing Design

Introduction

When you think about design elements to put on a webpage, what springs to mind are images, buttons and icons, typography, and the occasional custom patterns and lines.

These elements certainly add to the visual impact of a page, but there is one important design feature that many people tend to forget about: white space.

In this article, you will learn about the subtle power of white space, why it is an essential part of your webpage, and how it can be used effectively.

What Is White Space?

White space is the empty area between and around the various elements on a webpage.

Despite its name, white space isn’t always white. It can be colored, textured, or a part of a background image. As long as it is a blank space that does not contain any focused content, it is considered white space.

White space can also be referred to as negative space, as it represents a gap between the elements present on the page.

And although some people might consider it a waste of screen real estate, white space is a great tool to organize and balance design elements. It enables your eyes to “take a breather” when looking at a webpage.

How White Space Is Used in Web Design

Micro White Space vs. Macro White Space

White space can be analyzed in terms of location.

Micro white space refers to the small space between design elements. These are the spaces between lines and paragraphs, individual characters, and grid images, and those that separate menu links.

Micro white space has a direct impact on content readability and visual weight, both of which affect the user’s reading speed and comprehension.

Macro white space, meanwhile, includes the large space between major elements, as well as the space surrounding the design layout. You have macro white space on the left and right portion of most content, and in the space between content blocks.

Macro white space acts as a canvas, and if used effectively, puts less strain on the eyes and enables you to focus on the important parts of the page.

Active White Space vs. Passive White Space

White space can also be distinguished in terms of purpose.

Active white space is created when you use white space to lead a reader to an emphasized element. For example, if you want to highlight a quote, you can add macro white space around the quote and make the type bold. This draws the user’s eye towards that portion of the page.

On the other hand, passive white space is applied to improve the flow, visual order, and overall balance of the content. For instance, you can add margins, increase the space between paragraphs, and increase the line height of the text.  

How White Space Is Used Effectively

There are several ways you can use white space to design a visually pleasing and effective page. Here are a few that are worth noting:

Embrace the Empty Space

The Latin term Horror Vacui means “fear of emptiness”—an expression used in design to describe our tendency to fill up all empty spaces.

Although this aesthetic has been celebrated in the past (think Victorian age), nowadays, web design leans more towards a “less is more” approach. If you embrace the beauty of white space, you can use it to boost the user-friendliness of a webpage.

Group Related Elements Together

White space is not only about having blank areas on the page. It also involves organizing visual information in such a way that the entire layout makes sense.

White space acts as a visual cue to help users group certain elements together and find it easier to understand the content.

Improve the Aesthetic Look of the Page

White space is an effective way of lending a sense of sophistication and luxury to an otherwise generic page. Your product will look more prominent once it is set against abundant white space.

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Examples of Websites That Use White Space

Google

Perhaps the most prominent example of white space that is successfully utilized can be seen on Google’s homepage. Why? Because the use of white space completes the iconic simplicity and functionality of the page.

The macro white space serves as a container of the page as a whole, which puts little visual strain on the user. Moreover, it enables you to immediately focus on your purpose for visiting the page: to search for something online.

Apple

You cannot talk about white space without mentioning Apple. The company is able to effectively use white space to capture attention, ensure conversion through sales, and emphasize classiness.

Because of the use of white space on the webpages, the Apple products are the central focus every time.

Dropbox

Another triumphant use of white space can be seen on Dropbox’s homepage, where the generous use of white space—combined with fun illustrations—brings an approachable feel to an otherwise intimidating file-sharing scheme.

Fashion Brands (e.g., Chanel, Tom Ford)

Luxury brands have a knack for creating an atmosphere of sophistication, and so it’s no surprise that such brands maximize the potential of white space to make their products stand out elegantly.

Factors to Consider in Using White Space

Content

The amount of your content determines how you use white space. Of course, you have to put quality content on your pages, but at the same time, you don’t want to risk cramming a page with too much text.

So, while lessening the macro white space to make room for content, don’t forget to increase the volume of micro white space to ensure legibility and readability.

Design

The use of white space is also determined by the interface design. The page layout establishes which portions will serve as white space.

Branding Message

White space can be effective in elevating the perceived quality of your brand or product, as seen in the branding campaigns for companies like Apple and IKEA.

Conversely, white space is used sparingly by news websites, because they want to demonstrate credibility through their dense content.

User

You can plan your use of white space to target a niche of users. If you have an idea of the group’s preferences, then you could customize the page to enhance their user experience.

Importance of White Space

Based on what we’ve shared so far, there are three key benefits to using white space in web design, and these are:

It Makes Scanning, Reading, and Navigating Content Easier

The use of white space helps improve the legibility (how well readers can distinguish letters and words) and readability (how well readers can scan text) of your content. It is a great tool for enhancing user experience.

It Improves Focus and Guides the User Towards Content You Want to Emphasize

White space can make a certain element stand out more, because the lack of other elements around it immediately draws the eye to whichever webpage element you wish to highlight. Users would likely be drawn more easily if white space is skillfully applied.

It Improves Design and Makes the Site Simple and De-cluttered

The smart use of white space will make your webpage look clean, sleek, and de-cluttered. Besides being beneficial for your user experience, large amounts of macro white space reflect a sense of quality and luxury for your company or brand.

Summary

White space should never be regarded as just wasted gaps. Instead, it should be recognized and maximized as a powerful design element that actively influences the overall look of a webpage.

Truly understanding how to use white space to create an effective layout requires creative intuition, and of course, lots and lots of practice!

 

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