Design

The Key To Clean and Uncluttered Infographic Design: Managing Whitespace

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Whitespace is often used to create a balanced, harmonious layout. One that just “feels” right. It can also take the reader on a journey through the design in the same way a photographer leaves “looking room” in a portrait shot by positioning the subject off the center of the frame and having them looking into the remaining space – Mark Boulton, from A List Apart

Whitespace has been the topic of controversy between designers and the rest of the world for years.

It’s the first lesson for every designer. It’s about knowing what information to display (prioritizing) and visualizing it with consistent, aligned elements that offer just the right balance.

First, let’s start by learning what whitespace is.

Whitespace is the space between screen elements, or the negative space. That is not always ‘white’ per se, maybe it’s a color, but it’s a space free of design elements, like photos, text or logos.

Let’s take a quick look at Basecamp’s page. First, you’ll see their beautiful, uncluttered design by itself. Then, I quietly marked whitespace with light blue rectangles.

Whitespace in desgin

Brilliant use of whitespace.

Whitespace in design

Whitespace marked in light blue.

Why Whitespace Matters

Whitespace is a fundamental element of great design. According to our design team, it’s one of the first thing you learn in design school, and the first you need to master.

Without whitespace, a design might look like this.

CNN's use of whitespace

CNN’s website

You arrive at CNN’s site and you don’t know where to place your attention. There are too many elements. Besides, each element is hard to read. So you leave.

Still not convinced? Let’s take a quick look at why whitespace is important.

Improves Legibility

The most relevant benefit of whitespace is that it affects readability. Without enough spacing between lines, text becomes an unreadable mass of black characters. In the example below, you’ll discover that the lack of proper spacing between lines makes a tremendous effect on readability.

First, an excerpt of a New Yorker article on Atlantic City, with proper whitespace between lines. Easy to read, entertaining and informative.

whitespace_1441495746797_block_0

Now, the same article but no proper spacing between lines. A mess. Unreadable. And definitely not informative.

whitespace_1441495746797_block_1

Improves Consumption or Comprehension

The right use of whitespace allows you to consume content in the proper order. It helps you prioritize what to read first, and instruct the reader on what is more important.

On the other hand, the lack of it will make your design difficult to consume, as there won’t be a proper hierarchy between elements. Proper whitespace is the difference between logical skimming, or being lost.

whitespace_1441495746797_block_2

Creates Attention

In design, marketing, or teaching, sometimes you might need to direct the reader’s attention into one specific element. For many designers, the solution is to make the element bigger. However, that’s not the only choice. Or even the best. Whether you want the reader to click a button, or remember a specific numbers, surrounding it by whitespace is an excellent option to achieve your goal.

Take a look at Mikiya Kobayashi’s website. He’s a Japanese industrial designer born in Tokyo, and he embraces minimalism. You’ll observe how, by choosing whitespace over other elements, all attention is focused on that beautiful object.

Using whitespace to create attention

Conveys A Tone

If you are designing an infographic (or something else), you are trying to transmit a message. For that, you should use all the tools available, and whitespace is one of them (though often overlooked).

In this case, UAC studios utilized whitespace in the form of a black background to denote elegance, style and class in it’s designs.

Using whitespace to convey a message

Managing Whitespace Like A Pro

There is little doubt that whitespace is a valuable design tool that can make any design more effective. The key is to maintain whitespace while meeting the design’s objective. That’s not an easy feat, but today we’ll share three key points that will help you manage whitespace like a pro. 

Grasp the Big Picture and Visualize the Key Points

Before creating a beautiful infographic, there are two main things you should consider doing.

Start by setting your goal. Why do you want to create this infographic? What message do you want to convey? What takeaways should people get from it? This will assist you in laying the foundation of your design.

Based on the first point, you should try to identify your target audience. Who is your main persona? How can you show the information in a way your target audience understands it? Do they use specific terms? This will help you craft the right design and message.

As a team, we see countless infographics that are just a long string of text copied from Word or notepad, and pasted in a slightly formatted way into an infographic. People have a tendency of wanting to say too much, forgetting that simplicity is key and that readers tend to frown upon dense content.

Here, an example from a previous post comes in handy. Observe the difference between a crowded, misaligned and cluttered design, and one that is visually appealing – creating the perfect balance between elements (like text blocks) and whitespace.

Going visual

After identifying the goal and the target audience, it’s necessary to fish out the core information you want to convey and portray it in a way that will lead people to the a-ha moment. For that, we suggest you go through your text or piece of content and write down 5 main takeaways to be represented in your infographic.

Don’t use text to represent them – use keywords, icons, numbers or bullet points to convey ideas. Visuals speak much louder than words, which is why you’re creating an infographic in the first place. A page crammed full of text and images will appear busy. This makes the content difficult to read. It makes you unable to focus on the most relevant information.

Remember: an infographic is a space for visuals, not text.

Obsess Over Alignment

A huge part of managing whitespace is the right alignment of elements in the canvas – we are referring to titles and subheaders, text blocks, icons, photography, shapes, buttons and more. Without the proper arrangement, your design will look unorganized and clutter, and your whitespace won’t be an effective tool, but a dangerous risk. 

Let’s take a look at a great example from a previous post, Should We Obsess Over Alignment? – it will help you realize the difference between a perfect grid, and the lack of alignment, and how that affects not only whitespace but the infographic as a whole.

Alignment in infographcis

When you organize and align elements, the resulting product is a clear whitespace that divides all sections and makes the overall design memorable, easy to follow and consume. 

Using Piktochart To Align Elements

As a team, we know alignment is key – so we built in a fantastic tool inside Piktochart that will help you master it in no time. We call it the ‘snap-to-grid’ feature, and it’s almost magical!

The first step is to turn it on by clicking the button on the right edge of your tool bar (you can turn it off, but we don’t recommend it!).

Alignment in Piktochart

Once you turn on the ‘snap-to-grid’ feature, you will notice orange-colored grid lines appearing on screen whenever you move around elements on your canvas. You will notice that your object becomes “sticky” whenever it has the possibility to automatically align with the nearest object based on the grid lines. Using that, you can simply drag and drop different elements, making sure they are 100% aligned.

Alignment in Piktochart

If you are looking for extra sauce on alignment, See Mei (our fantastic Head of Design) wrote a wonderful post on it a few months ago.

Balance & minimalism

In design, balance is the notion that elements are aligned, ordered and symmetrical. This, in turn creates harmony and cohesion. As balance is found in nature, the human mind is biologically programmed to find it aesthetically pleasing. Therefore, we need to leverage it in out designs.

Let’s go over a few tips that will help you manage whitespace by leveraging balance and minimalism.

  1. Introduce some white space, literally. In the past, we talked about ‘whitespace’ not necessarily being white. In this case, we are literally talking about white! If your branding guidelines require you to use a few different colors, make it easier on the eye and introduce more white space. For instance, if you use a lot of heavy color combination in some blocks (as in the example below), you can balance it out with whiter blocks. This will improve the readability of your infographic. using whitespace in infographics
  2. Choose your background wisely. Piktochart has plenty of funky backgrounds in our editor, but the key is to use them to your advantage. Don’t make the background compete with your content. Your message is what counts and if you choose a background that is too crazy it will steal attention of what’s really important. Let’s see a couple examples. Both share the same content, but different background. Even though both are ‘funky’, the first one is fighting for attention with the text, and the second one beautifully complements the content.
    whitespace_1441638467294_block_0
    whitespace_1441638467294_block_1
  3. Keep things simple and minimalistic. Don’t refrain from using a lot of whitespace. Mark Boulton, from A List Apart (the guy we quoted at the beginning!) explains how some people believe that ‘whitespace is empty space’ and how that notion is way off. Don’t try to fit as many elements as possible your canvas. Instead embrace minimalism and play with whitespace – it adds sophistication, elegance and makes your design easy to read. His example is fantastic.
figure3_luxury_direct

This post is part of September’s Layout Series. Feel free to check it out!

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