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White Space is Your Friend


You’ve all seen the TV show Hoarders where people’s homes are overrun with newspapers, odds and ends, empty food containers, and sometimes dead animals collected over several years. The thought of it disgusts and shocks viewers. And sometimes inspires us to do some spring-cleaning.

Graphic designers often get a similar visceral reaction to a poorly designed, cluttered page. Luckily crowding a page in a magazine ad with too much text and too many photos won’t cause a team of therapists and clean up crews to show up at your door. But a clean makeover is still in order.

Check out these ads from Apple computers, one from the late 70s and one from a few years ago. The earlier ad reads more like an article, and the margin between image and text is cramped. But a few decades later, Apple and AT&T aim for a fresher, cleaner design sensibility in an ad that still has valuable information but allows much more visual room to breathe. In the business we call that room to breathe white space. Ahhhh.


White space, also called negative space, does more than make designers happy. It serves a functional purpose in helping communicate messages for the client. Here are some key ways:

  • White space improves readability. Just compare the two ads above to see one is markedly easier on the eye. White space in the iPhone ad directs the reader’s eye from the product photo to the block of text. Even space between the paragraphs of text contributes to readability.
  • White space evokes sophistication. Ever been to a Saks Fifth Ave? It’s sparse inside: very few racks with very few clothes, but with very large price tags. There’s plenty of room to walk around, making it easy to find what you’re looking for. A large contrast to a discount clothier packed with overstuffed racks you can barely squeeze through. It would take considerably longer to search this store to find that new outfit. Design is the same. More space = easy to find. Less space = hard to discover. And the feeling of luxury and affluence parallels as well.

Start looking around at ads, websites, and commercials. See which ones you find easier to find the key message or feel are more pleasing to the eye. Note the use of white space.

And just so you know, the space doesn’t always have to be white.


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