June 15th, 2006

Web Design and Whitespace

Whether you are designing for print or the web, there is one element that is perhaps the most important of all: whitespace.

Whether you are designing for print or the web, there is one element that is perhaps the most important of all: whitespace. Without it, all other elements on the page become unreadable and cluttered. Whitespace (also called negative space) is best defined as “the empty space that is kept around grouped items to visually separate them”. [1]

A large percentage of web sites of yesteryear suffer from design clutter. Using tables, spacer GIFs, and font tags, these sites (suffering from “tag soup” design) are often inefficient for presenting information in a readable fashion. Print designers have long since understood the importance (and necessity) of whitespace in their layouts, and web designers would be well off to incorporate this technique.

Often times when designing a site, there is pressure from the higher-ups to insert as much content as possible onto a single page. Their reasoning is that by dumping all relevant information onto a single page, the reader won’t have to click through multiple pages in order to find what they are looking for. Under the pretense of “usability”, this approach to web design has found itself much too commonplace in the web.

However, reason dictates that by placing large amounts of content onto a single page, the reader will easily become lost in a mass of material. Indeed, too much information on a web page dramatically reduces its effectiveness at presenting the content. [2, section titled ‘White Space is Better Than Tight Space’] The reader’s eye tires easily, making them less willing and/or able to continue looking for what they were initially hoping to find.

The solution to this design dilemma seems a bit counter-intuitive to some. By placing less content on the page and increasing the amount of whitespace surrounding each visual element, the reader’s eye will naturally flow from one section to another. Reading comprehension improves dramatically, and the reader is able to absorb more information at a quicker pace. [3]

Giving the text on the page room to breathe is a simple yet effective way to make your content easy on the reader’s eyes. Additionally, increased contrast is introduced into the design, naturally bringing the reader’s attention to your content.

Thankfully, gone are the days of animated GIFs, bright colors, and patterned backgrounds. As web designers, we need to understand that one of the best ways to capture a reader’s attention and present an intuitive, clean site design is to appropriately use whitespace.

One Response to “Web Design and Whitespace”

  1. Ron
    February 7, 2008 at 4:58 pm #

    Somebody should tell MySpace that. It’s almost hard to take myspace seriously. You have to copy and paste things in to word or something before you can read them.

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