Someone likes their white space

I’ve been posting my word art projects for a bit now, but I haven’t been posting them as I do them. I’ve scheduled them out, to pop up on the blog in between regular updates. Fairly common for people that keep blogs. But you can see all of them, side by side, on my website.
Looking at them, all together like this, I noticed a trend. I love me some white space. Sometimes, very literally white space.

It isn’t client work, which means I get to design a piece however the hell I want. Still, I’m trying to communicate whatever meaning I got from the text. There’s a feeling that I want to get across. They don’t share the same goals as a logo or a website, but I still look at each as it’s own visual problem to solve.

When left to my own devices, I tend toward clean, simple, plenty of breathing room. I like to boil something down to its most basic parts. Or as Einstein put it, “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Maybe I should add that one to the list.

At an agency I worked for, the boss man told me to “lose all the wasted space” on a layout. Space is money, and something (anything) could be printed there. Pixels are free. But in print, white space is a bit of a luxury. If you look around, you’ll notice that ads for budget places are packed to the gills with print. Text, images, shove something in there, because we’re paying for that space.

So what’s with all the “wasted space?”

There are a lot of advantages to negative space. You may not be getting as much information onto a page, but the information that is there can be communicated more clearly. Giving elements some space aids legibility – blocks of dense text are more difficult to read. Elements that are grouped together are often perceived as one item (it’s called the Gestalt Effect – see, I was paying attention in Psych 101). When images are grouped together with little space between them, your brain can read it as one big object. (This can also be used to your advantage, if you want your user to perceive disparate objects as a group.)

Which leads me back to communicating more clearly. Visual hierarchy is based around the idea that when everything is screaming for your attention, no one thing gets it. Establishing a hierarchy will lead someone through your layout – one element will pop out, then they’re led to secondary and tertiary elements. If you’re doing your job right, they’ll notice the most important thing first. There are plenty of ways to do this, and negative space is one of them. If you have a header with a lot of space around it, followed by a block of dense (by comparison) text, the header has more “visual weight.” When you came to this site, did you look at the header logo first?

Negative space is as deliberate a choice as any other decisions you make while designing. I don’t use white space because pixels are free, or I couldn’t come up with something to put there. I use white space because it belongs there.



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