Whether you listen to opera or hair metal, Billie Holiday or Billy Joe Armstrong, you know that music is a balance of sounds and spaces. It needs rests between notes and chords; otherwise you would just hear a bunch of noise at once.
The spaces allow the sounds to be distinguished from one another. You hear their intentions. In the same way, graphic design also needs visual white space: without it, the composition is a wall of noise, none of the elements stand out from each other, and your intended message is lost.
Definition: White space (or negative space) is essentially any blank area between elements in a design composition. There are two kinds: macro white space is the area between major design elements such as text and photos, and micro white space is the area between smaller design elements such as letters, words, and lines. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be “white”—it’s just the negative space in a design composition. The name comes from early days of graphic design when most things were printed on white paper. [pullquote]Macro white space is the area between major design elements such as text and photos, and micro white space is the area between smaller design elements such as letters, words, and lines.[/pullquote]
Why is white space so important? Essentially, white space is what helps organize the information in a composition or design layout. It orchestrates the relationships between text and visual elements. By attracting the eye and guiding it around the page, white space sets a visual hierarchy in our mind as to which elements in the design are the most important. When done well, white space offers soothing simplicity of design so the reader focuses on the content and the message. Put simply, ample white space makes a design more readable and digestible and supports the hierarchy of ideas in content.
Never think of white space as empty or wasted space that needs to be filled. In his classic book on writing, The Elements of Style, William Strunk instructs us to “omit needless words.” I believe the same also goes for graphic design, simply amended to “omit needless elements and decoration.”
Not every space needs to be filled; not every page needs special decorative elements or imagery. Cheaper brands sometimes try to cram as much information into a space as possible, and it looks a little messy. When there are too many diverse elements together, the mind doesn’t know what to focus on or what to process in what order. All of the elements end up all just yelling at the same level and this can look chaotic and feel uncomfortable.
White space gives your mind a rest and time to process the information you’re looking at. It represents the breaths your brain and eyes need to remain focused on the content. The more white space there is, the easier the layout is to navigate and read. Less visual clutter and more white space will always convey your message better. Effective use of white space can ensure that your brand stands out and looks polished and professional. As Leonardo Da Vinci said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” The simpler the design, the more people will get it and like it, and in the end, the more memorable the design—and your ideas—will be. [pullquote]The simpler the design, the more people will get it and like it, and in the end, the more memorable the design—and your ideas—will be.[/pullquote]
Pro tip: Lots of white space almost always conveys elegance, openness, and sophistication—so using more white space can make a design look luxurious. Furthermore, when white space is used asymmetrically, it can create beautiful spaces and shapes that are striking, modern, and dynamic.
In conclusion: To create balance, movement, and rhythm in a layout, you need planned and measured white space. The elements that are left out are just as important as the elements that are left in. Graphic designers understand this and they thoughtfully and intentionally add white space to a design to create this accessible and fluid organization.
If you keep it simple and embrace the white space, your intended messages will be better organized and presented clearly and beautifully.