A lot of times, when working on both print or web design projects, a client will comment on the amount of whitespace used in the website, postcard, brochure or advertisement. I am often asked if I could use the whitespace to add in an additional call to action, an image or extra copy. I've encountered a lot of misconceptions about whitespace in both web and print design and the biggest is that it's a bad thing.
Whitespace is a design principle that matters, and I'll tell you why.
Here is a list of the top five whitespace myths debunked:
Myth #1: "Whitespace is... well, white."
Whitespace does not have to be white, it can be black, red, textured, patterned or rainbow. Whitespace is any area of a web page or design that that is not occupied by content or functional elements.
Myth #2: "Whitespace exists because the designer already added all the necessary content and didn't have anything else to put there."
Often, I have clients tell me, well there is some leftover space here, can we add some content asking people to sign up for our eNewsletter or add an image to fill the space. Just because there is whitespace, does not mean that it needs to be filled with something or that the designer only left blank space because he or she didn't have any content left to put there.
Whitespace is intended to make content easier to view and understand. It makes content easier to read and helps guide a viewer's eye in the direction of the pieces of content that matter. The correct use of whitespace will enhance the visual hierarchy, highlighting the dominant elements, even if they are not necessarily the largest elements.
People like simplicity and whitespace helps them find what they are looking for and navigate a web page more comfortably. Why do you think Google is by far the most popular search engine? Look at Google's search page compared to Yahoo. The use of whitespace and simple interface help people see what they want, leading to a much better user experience.
Myth #3 "Too much whitespace makes my site or graphics look amatuer."
When paired with the right typography, well-designed graphics and a great layout, whitespace communicates elegance, simplicity and innovation. Don't believe me? Take a closer look at Apple's branding. Their website, packaging and even product interfaces utilize lots of whitespace giving their brand the fresh look that Apple is known for.
Myth #4 "In web design, there can't be any whitespace above the scroll line, I need to use every pixel of space I am allotted."
A lot of website owners are concerned with getting all of their content above the scroll line, or fold, on their website. Many people believe that users do not scroll when they visit a website, meaning that anything placed below this line would not be seen. While, yes, your most important content (such as your navigation and quick contact information) needs to appear above the fold, it is okay to place content below this line. A 2006 study (http://blog.clicktale.com/2006/12/23/unfolding-the-fold/) found that 76% of web surfers scroll down on every page they visit, and 22% scroll all the way to the bottom. This shows us that it is definitely okay to leave some whitespace at the top, because your site visitors are likely to scroll and find additional content.
Myth #5 "The more information and content I put on my website or in my design, the more the viewer will get out of it."
Just because you use every inch of space, doesn't mean that your users are understanding, taking in or even looking at everything you put out there. Whitespace is proven to help users better understand content and get more out of what they see.
So choose just a few of the most important elements, and allow yourself some whitespace to get your design looking clean and help separate out the information.