What is white space?
White space or ‘negative space’ as it is also known by, is the empty space between content and design elements. It is also akin to the pauses jammed in between songs and conversations. Without these pauses, those songs that we love so much or conversations that we look forward to would be nothing but total nerve-wrecking racket.
On another note, white space has nothing to do with the color white. It’s quite simply the filler that acts as a balance between the design elements and content on a webpage to create harmony for better user experience. In fact, white space can make up of any color, since it’s really serves as the background for the design elements and content, much like a canvas that is painted on.
Just as songs and conversations aren’t meant to be uninterrupted barrage of sounds, design elements and content aren’t supposed to be a mindless explosion of data and design. It’ll do nothing but tire the viewers in the absence of some empty space to provide some mental and visual relief plus rhythm.
However, not everyone are of the opinion that white space is a crucial part of good UX/UI design. Quite a few business owners (aka headstrong clients) especially believe that white space is nothing but sheer wastage of space that they could fill up with more content or visual graphics. Talk about imperiousness.
Types of white space in design
Moving on, let’s explore the four kinds of white space that are used in UI/UX design.
1. Micro white space
Just as the name suggests, micro white space is the small negative space that is used to separate smaller elements like lines and paragraphs in content, captions on images and images themselves in design. This kind of white space is known to enhance content readability and legibility by making it easy to follow through regular negative space or paragraph breaks.
2. Macro white space
Contrary to the previous category, macro white space is the larger negative space that is applied to separate bigger elements like the title and description in content and layout design elements. More than anything, macro white space fits the role of a decluttering tool that provides a calming effect to a webpage.
A better way to describe it, albeit metaphorically, would be to compare it to a plate on which a dish is served. For the sake of presentation and convenience in eating, it’s advisable that the plate is not filled up completely with food. The spare or empty space on the plate creates a balance between utilization and elegance.
In the world of design, this principle holds more steam since the focus is mostly on offering a visually appealing presentation to the viewers. What a larger area of white space does is it makes it easy on the eyes with minimalism and simplicity creating a soothing effect on the readers so they can navigate easily and absorb the information free of clutter.
3. Passive white space
The purpose of passive white space is to make the layout of a webpage look good. To that end, it is the space or gap applied between lines in a paragraph and between every typeface in different fonts.
While passive white space does add visual appeal to the layout primarily, it also improves readability, although not in any particular reading order. Everything about the application of this kind of white space points out towards a natural order that the content and design elements in a page need.
4. Active white space
Active white space is the empty space that is incorporated wittingly to improve the structure of a page and add dynamism to it. This aids readers immensely by offering an easy flow of content to follow on the page they visit.
This type of white space doesn’t necessarily abide by the principle of symmetry, but is meant to enhance readability and content flow so readers can have an optimal user experience while on the page.
What are the benefits of using white space in design?
As I’ve already laid out fleetingly while discussing the different types of white space, the benefits of using them pretty much points toward better user experience. However, for the sake of better understanding, I’d like to elucidate some specific benefits that one can achieve by using white space in general.
- White space creates an instantaneous balance: When you apply white space to your webpage, you instantly initiate a harmony of sorts to create balance between the background and the elements that are on the page.
Being granted with the ability to decide how much space you would like to assign between each element, design or textual, is a huge responsibility. Especially when it’ll determine how your visitors take to it.
A judicious application of each white space will allow you to get the balance between the elements right so the visitors can have an optimal visual experience.
- It augments readability and flow: Imagine reading an article without any line breaks, any paragraph breaks or any page breaks. Needless to say, even thinking about a continuous array of texts is enough to make your brain go numb.
Applying empty space between lines and paragraphs from all four margins (top, bottom, left and right) makes it easier for readers to follow and read the text without any stress. The flow is seamless and the user experience highly satisfactory.
- It helps maintain attention and focus: When there’s an easy and smooth flow of design and text without any clutter, it invariably leads to unbroken focus on the elements. On a side note, the lesser the design elements and text you have on a page, the more pleasant is the experience for the visitors.
Plus, it leaves you with the opportunity to choose how to make the empty space more appealing.
- It helps in creating distinction between different elements: Application of empty space offers you one distinctive advantage. It establishes clearer communication between you and your visitors.
The proportion of white space you apply between the elements helps readers identify correlation and differences between elements. For example, smaller space is an indication of a brief pause that still maintains correlation between two elements or lines.
Larger white space indicates a clear break and distinction between two elements, such as paragraph breaks.
- It helps in establishing order: Designing the layout of a page is a crucial task that goes on to determine how viewers perceive and accept information. Arranging every element in a page in their order of importance for better navigation is what the principle of visual hierarchy is all about.
With the help of this principle you can guide your visitors through easy-to-follow and predictable hints to optimize the functionality of the webpage and the website in general.
- It helps establish flow and pattern: And finally, using white space helps you build a pattern to your interface that in turn lets your visitors identify and understand your purpose better.
This goes on to make navigation a cakewalk for them as they successfully predict the steps embedded into the interface.
How to decide which white space to use?
The discernment to choose which kinds of white spaces to use and where doesn’t really require any design skills. It’s more of a logical decision than anything else, although it does help if you have a penchant for aesthetics and detail.
Having said that, the following are the facets that actually influence your choice of white space in your UI.
1. The content
They don’t call content king for nothing. First and foremost, your objective should be to maintain primary focus of the visitors on the content. And to achieve that, you need to amplify readability, something that can be achieved through greater number of small empty spaces or micro white spaces between lines and paragraphs.
Micro white spaces will tone down the enormity of the information contained in the pages and allow readers to consume it without any strain by doing away with clutter.
2. Design elements
Next in line is the assortment of design elements in the UI that will determine your choice of white space between micro and macro. Of course, it goes without saying that the amount of macro white space will be more than micro white space in this case.
Just to make sure, here’s an article on visual design principles that will offer you a better understanding of layout design and help you make a well-informed choice.
3. Brand / product
How big and influential the brand or product will be also go on to determine the choice of white space. In the cases of luxury and premium brands, the evident greater affordability makes it easier to take a pick without fear of any risk.
Apple has been doing it for years now in their branding exercise. Apple connoisseurs are already in tune with its brand presence, which is why their primary objective is to draw immediate attention to the products rather than on the descriptions.
How to introduce white space into your UI design
Just like everything else in design, the steps to infusing white space into your UI design exercise is also pretty clear cut. Let’s move on to them, without any particular order.
- Principles of grouping: Originating from the German word gestalt, which means pattern, principles of grouping or the Gestalt laws of grouping propound the idea that humans innately identify objects as arranged items. Five categories under these principles - proximity, similarity, continuity, closure and connectedness should be your go-to when adding white space to your UI.
- Putting focus on a specific design element or text: How do you direct the viewer’s attention to some specific image of text that is, let’s say, the centerstage of your page? By doing away with unnecessary content and design elements that would only choke up the UI.
In other words, keep it clean and clutter free with as few text and elements as you can by incorporating larger white space to put the focus on a specific image or text that you wish to direct the viewer’s attention to.
- Maintain uniformity in spacing: It’s vital that you stick to a particular spacing order or system to create uniformity in your UI. This makes exploration of your UI a pleasant visual experience for the visitors.
Moreover, with a set order of spacing in your UI, the designers won’t face the challenge of having to decide how much space to use for different pages. When you follow a predetermined system, the process becomes easier and saves quality time.
- Pan out your design element with a larger white space: The best way to begin deploying the UI design is to restrict the content and design element to a smaller are with larger white space around them. This helps put things into perspective and allows you to visualize the next steps better.
It also lets the UI feel free from being choked up. From hereon, you can feed in more design elements or text in their order of importance if there’s sufficient empty space to fit them in without disturbing the harmony of the UI.
- Spacing is not absolute: You can’t always depend on white space to convey correlation between design elements when your UI is a bit too crowded. There would be times when the business would demand that a page contain quite a lot of design elements in it.
When faced with such situations, look towards other approaches instead of depending solely on white spaces. You can use fillers or shadows to create gap and yet restore flow, adjust color schema and size of texts to correlate or create distinction, and so on.
Whatever you do, always make a conscious attempt to utilize white space and additional methods to create a UI that offers all the necessary information and keeps the page clutter free as well.
How to decide how much space to give
This one is not really a tough nut to crack if you work your away around the following guidelines.
Expand your perspective
You need to understand one simple fact - the UI you are designing is not for you, it’s for your target audience. So, start by stepping into their shoes and look at it through their perspective.
With this technique you will be able to experience how a visitor navigates through the information laid out on the page. This neutral experience will show you how easy or difficult it can be for a first time visitor to make their way through the UI in a logical manner.
Since, spacing is the method of creating some logic into the navigation of a UI, this should be able to tell you how much space you should fill in between the elements.
Using larger space is a good start
The best way to design your UI is to start off with a generous amount of white space in it. This way you will have a better idea of how much spacing you can do away with to make your page look more balanced.
Not to mention it’s way easier to begin with larger white space compared to smaller white space. The latter scenario would have you making several changes to the design elements, rearranging them and repeating the process until you think you got it right. Starting with a larger white space leaves you with the scope to add elements in order of their importance with more ease and in a quicker turnaround time.
Don’t go overboard on the spacing
Just as throwing in too much of design elements and content is not a good idea, infusing too much of white space is, in the same way, not a good UI design practice. The trick is to create a balance that offers optimal visual experience, and it may not always be an easy task, but you have to keep trying until you get it right.
You should, at all costs, not fail in maintaining connection between the elements without letting the elements clutter the UI. Remember, the entire purpose is to improve readability and comprehensibility while guiding the visitors through the content and the elements in the right order.
It’s important that you’re able to create balance and harmony between the content, the design elements and the white space before you reach the prototyping phase.
Some useful tips to take home
- Design is a combination of both art and science and when it comes down to the science part of it, your prime focus should be on psyche of the users. You need to get into the minds of the users to understand how they might perceive, absorb and retain the visual experience that you have to offer through your UI.
Dive into in-depth research of the performance of your market competitors and what their users feel about their UI. Chances are, you will learn what not to do and incorporate in your UI design project and that’s exactly what will ensure a positive impression on your target audience.
- No matter how strongly you feel or your gut tells you that cramming more information into the pages is a better way at impressing the users, simply do not follow that instinct. There’s nothing more impressive than a clean and more spacious UI because it lets the page breathe and calms the viewer’s mind for a clearer iconic memory or visual sensory memory.
With too much information it only gets more difficult for the viewers to commit to their visual memory, thus removing you from their thoughts very easily.
- You won’t know for sure how your UI will fare unless you test them out, even if you’re sure you’ve created an impressive UI. Set a design style that reflects your message and branding initiatives before testing your UI on the users, while remaining on the standby to implement any necessary changes based on their feedback.
Here are some psychology concepts for designers that you can refer to.
You may seem to think you’ve learned enough of what needs to be learnt about white space. But, fact is the subject of white space in UI design is a broad spectrum area that makes up of elements like line spacing, visual cues and so on.
What we’ve attempted to do in this article is help you kickstart your UI design project with a starter kit guideline comprising the hows and the whats to white space in UI design. From here, you’ll have better clarity on approaching your design project with a well informed mind before you dive deeper into the detailed technical aspect of it.
0707 Inc is a UI/UX design agency that has traversed a long and eventful journey filled with learning curves along the way, while helping our clients achieve their goals with great diligence and sincerity. Feel free to reach out to our UI/UX designers to discuss your project in complete confidentiality.