If you’re not a designer, making sure your website looks near-perfect can be a challenge. Using a quality theme can help a lot, but you’ll also want to learn some basic principles if you want the best results. This includes understanding the concept of ‘white space’ design.
White space is exactly what it sounds like, and despite its apparent simplicity, it’s a vital part of any visual design. Too much can leave a page looking empty, for example, while too little can make your content appear cluttered. Achieving the right balance, on the other hand, can do a lot for your site’s appearance and ease of use.
An introduction to white space
White space is a general design term that’s used in a lot of contexts. These include printing, art, and (of course) web design. Even if you’ve never heard the phrase before, you probably have some idea of what it means from the name alone.
Take a look at the following page:
This home page displays an image, a title, and some text, all of which is the page’s content. The ’emptiness’ surrounding the content is referred to as white space.
Of course, it’s important not to take this term too literally. White space doesn’t actually have to be white – it can be any other background color (or even a background image or design). It’s simply the part of a page that’s left empty. Given this, it’s also sometimes called ‘negative space’.
It’s easy to dismiss the blank parts of a page as unimportant. In a way, however, each page’s white space is as important as the content it separates. Let’s talk about why this is.
Why white space is a vital design concept
When you’re putting together a website, it can be tempting to fit as much content as possible onto each page. There’s a lot you want to share with your readers or customers, after all. For this reason, slipping into a ‘more is better’ mentality is easy.
However, let’s look at what happens when we take this philosophy to its natural extreme:
This page is almost completely devoid of white space, and suffers as a result. It appears incredibly cluttered, and it’s difficult to find what you’re looking for. Upon reaching a site like this, most visitors are likely to leave immediately.
While this is perhaps an over-the-top example, pages not using enough white space are fairly common. This site also illustrates the point nicely:
There’s less going on here, but the elements are still squashed too closely together. This makes the page overwhelming to look at (and of course, the choice of colors and visuals don’t help either).
The point here is that using enough white space on your web pages is key to making them both visually appealing and easy to navigate. Having enough white space between elements has also been repeatedly shown to increase reading comprehension, and to have a positive effect on overall User Experience (UX).
Of course, you can also take this concept too far in the opposite direction. Too much white space can leave your design looking empty, disjointed, and unprofessional:
At the same time, Google’s home page is almost nothing but white space, and is highly effective:
This just goes to show that how much white space is ‘right’ for any given web page depends on its goals and the type of content it includes. Finding the perfect balance between negative and occupied space should be at the forefront of your mind when building or redesigning your own website.
How to use white space design effectively on your web pages
As we’ve pointed out, both too much or too little white space can become an issue. In reality, however, the problem is nearly always forgetting to use enough negative space between the other elements on your web pages. This is why white space design largely revolves around balancing out content elements using white space.
To get even more specific, there are actually two types of white space.
Micro white space
This space is crucial for ensuring that visitors can read the text on your page, and for separating elements to show that they’re distinct. In most cases, everything on your page should have at least a bit of micro white space around it.
This can also be thought of as a border or margin, and is usually most effective when it’s used consistently. This means using the same amount of space between each line of text, for example, and including borders of the same width around all of your images:
Macro white space
As you might expect, the other aspect to consider is ‘macro white spaces’. These are the larger empty areas found between sections of a page, around content blocks, or separating sidebars, headers, and footers from the main content:
Macro white space helps visitors understand the structure of your web page. It quickly shows where one section ends and another begins. Plus, it ensures that key elements such as navigation are easily distinguishable from everything else.
As a rule of thumb, the more distinct one element is from another, the more white space should be included between them. Sections with less negative space between them will be seen as more closely related. On the other hand, larger gaps indicate a switch to a new type of content or feature:
Finally, white space can also be used to help the most important elements on a page stand out. For example, most sites have at least one Call To Action (CTA). These are important steps you’d like your visitors to take. This could mean clicking on a purchase button, for example, or filling out a subscription form.
Surrounding your CTA element with plenty of white space is one of the best ways to draw visitors’ eyes right to it. This is especially effective when the CTA itself is also made distinct through unique colors and design:
Achieving the right balance of white space on your pages can take a little work. However, it’s well worth the effort involved. It’s also important to trust your own eye, and have testers take a look at your pages from a fresh perspective.
In addition, if you’re having some trouble deciding whether or not you’ve included enough white space on a live site, you can use a heat map tool to analyze visitor behavior. If you’re not seeing much interaction with crucial elements like navigation and CTAs, you might benefit from giving them a little more room to breathe. When it comes to white space design, less is definitely more.
It’s said that in music, the silences between notes are just as important as the sounds themselves, because this is what shapes and distinguishes those sounds. The same principle applies to your website – the spaces between content are more vital than you might at first expect.
When it comes to using the principles of white space design on your site, balance is key. Too little white space leaves your pages feeling cluttered and confusing, while too much offers no clear structure. To avoid those issues, you can use negative space strategically to show both closely connected elements, and those to be seen as separate and distinct.
Ask away in the comments section below!