Many designers — especially beginners — make the mistake of designing really busy and complex visuals.
If a portion of their design has no text, icons, or other objects, they need to add something and fill in the blank space.
In short, they undermine the value of white space.
But good designers know that everything they add and don’t add is intentional. Even empty space has a purpose. And knowing how to use space effectively can take your design skills to the next level.
When used correctly, white space (also known as negative space) can enhance the impact of your visuals.
So in this article, we’ll walk you through ways white space improves your design, along with compelling examples to get your creative juices flowing.
Table of contents
What is white space in design?
White space, or negative space, refers to the visual areas not occupied by any elements, such as texts, objects, or illustrations. It is the blank or unused space surrounding the elements in your design.
To understand this further, look at how Apple displays the iPad on its website. It’s a company known for its mastery of design, and its use of white space is no exception.
There is plenty of space surrounding the product image without any distractions. This negative space ensures a clean layout that keeps visitors focused on the product. And just one object kept in the middle of the page is a powerful way to draw the visitor in.
Also, take note that white space isn’t necessarily white. It can be any color the designer uses as the background for the visual.
And as we discussed earlier, negative space in a good design is intentional. When you notice a lot of blank space in a visual, it’s not because the designer forgot to add something.
Adding (or rather leaving) white space in design is a deliberate decision to focus on other elements or trigger a specific mood. It helps provide a visual break among graphics, text, and other components of a visual, makes the design look less crowded, and has several other benefits.
Why is white space important?
If your design is not structured correctly, it may look ugly and disorganized. And to structure it properly, you need white space.
Negative space may come across as a waste, but it fulfills a crucial goal by tapping into a viewer’s psychology. It allows the necessary visual room for your design to breathe and for the human brain to process.
Even this paragraph you’re reading right now wouldn’t appear as neat and readable if there were no white space. White space is what makes it digestible.
On that note, here are all the benefits and use cases to help you understand the value that white space brings to the table.
With white space, you can:
1. Direct focus on specific elements
People are increasingly busy, and their attention spans are usually low. They don’t have time to understand an over-designed graphic.
So it’s important to avoid clutter and highlight the most critical part of your design as soon as possible. For example, white space can help you clarify and enhance the vital elements in your visual, such as a call to action.
By getting your message across quickly and efficiently, negative space increases the likelihood of a user taking your desired action.
Google is probably the best example of using white space to focus on a core feature or product.
When someone visits the Google homepage, it wants the user to do what they came to do as quickly as possible, i.e., conduct a search. So there’s nothing else on the page except plenty of white space and the search box at the center.
The negative space simply directs the visitor to the most actionable part of the page, allowing the part to stand out from everything else. Plus, the clean and clear design helps avoid any confusion.
2. Improves comprehension of both the design and content
Legibility is crucial to any design.
As mentioned earlier, one of the greatest uses of white space is breaking up the design and its content into manageable and readable chunks.
To illustrate, consider the two columns below. Which one is easier to read?
It becomes tough to read and understand if your visual has too much text or too many objects confined to a small area. On the other hand, negative space gives ample time to users to absorb your content or design, increasing comprehension.
3. Tell viewers which elements belong together (and which don’t)
White space is a great way to use the principle of proximity to make your visual appealing and organize information in an easy-to-understand layout.
Related items are placed close to each other, so there’s little white space among them. Similarly, separate items are placed at a distance from each other, with a lot of white space between them.
This way, white space provides clues related to what objects belong together and which are separate, enhancing the viewer’s ability to understand the whole visual.
Let’s consider an example. Take a look at the banner below.
You can see three distinct groups of elements with plenty of white space separating them.
- The headline at the top
- Description in the middle
- Logo and tagline at the bottom
In addition, the elements that belong together — such as the logo and tagline — have relatively less white space between them.
Understanding these relationships among different parts gives you a better sense of what each part means and what the whole design conveys.
4. Establish visual hierarchy
Another application of negative space is for establishing a visual hierarchy.
Every visual is made of several parts, some of which are more important than others. To make your visual easy to understand, you want the essential parts to catch more attention than the less critical parts.
In fact, great visuals guide users in precisely what they should look at first, where to direct their attention second, and then third, and so on. This guidance can be imparted with a number of visual clues, one of which is white space.
You can use white space to emphasize particular aspects and downplay others as required. Consider the design below.
The abundance of negative space around the big and bold product title ensures that it captures a viewer’s attention right away.
Their gaze then goes on to the product image on the right and the small description on the left. That’s not all. White space is also used to make the CTA button stand out from all the other objects.
Examples of negative space in visuals
Now that you’ve seen how embracing white space can benefit your visuals, let’s go through some examples of white space in visual design.
1. White space in clever illusions
In this example, negative space is used to form an optical illusion.
You can see it’s a chalice. But on closer observation, you’ll also see the faces of two people in front of each other.
White space can help you have a single object interpreted as multiple objects.
2. Negative space in logo design
There’s no match for a logo with a thoughtful mix of letters and white space. In the FedEx logo above, you can see the white space between the letters E and x creates a shape that looks like an arrow.
3. White space in landing pages
The primary goal of a landing page is to move the reader to action. It should be as simple as possible to guide visitors without any noise.
SendinBlue’s website is a great example of using negative space to avoid clutter and focus on the core message and call to action. The ample white space surrounding the CTA button ensures that our eyes are drawn to it.
4. Negative space in digital advertising
Brands increasingly use white space in social media and other online banner ads. You can see it around the web in advertising for beauty products, gadgets, fashion brands, and more.
Take the above advert from Bellroy, for example. White space is at the core of its visual design and is used in all its marketing and branding assets.
5. White space in business cards
Negative space goes a long way in conveying luxury, sophistication, and expertise in the field when used in business cards.
In the example above, white space has been used in two ways. It’s the black area surrounding different parts. But it’s also seeping into the text to form shapes like a hammer and a hut.
6. Negative space in billboards
In this example, you can see that even billboards pose an opportunity to experiment with white space. Snapchat, the social media platform, used this design when venturing into outdoor advertising in 2016.
7. White space in brochure design
This brochure is a great example of negative space being used to induce a sense of calm in the layout, which is the perfect match for a Yoga brand. Very few objects are on each page, but the visuals still seem balanced.
8. White space in signboards
As the above example shows, white space can make a massive difference in signboards. It creates a sense of premium quality and elegance. Plus, it helps the brand name stand out.
9. White space in newsletters
Newsletters can benefit tremendously from the good use of white space. Marketers and content creators often cram them with lots of information laid out in a crowded manner.
The example above illustrates a great way to design newsletters and make them more readable with healthy bites of white space.
Declutter your design and make room for white space
White space is among the most potent weapons in your design arsenal, as it enhances your layout’s integrity and impact. And with the rise of minimalism in design in recent years, white space is more critical than ever.
The less clutter in your design, the easier it will be to communicate your visual message.
As discussed, you can use a healthy amount of negative space in all types of visual collateral to direct a viewer’s attention and lend an air of quality to your designs.
We hope the use cases and examples we shared will help you create visuals that meet your design goals.
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