How Whitespace Works
Being able to define whitespace is only half the battle – the key to understanding it is possessing an awareness of how it works. People fall down in their belief that any empty space within a design must be filled (and that whitespace is essentially wasted space). In reality, whitespace is just as vital as an area of a design which is populated with content.
The aim of the game is effective communication – we need to lead the audience through a design (and possibly towards an end goal). There are a number of ways of doing this, whitespace being one of the primary methods. By establishing proximity between design elements, it’s possible to draw an audience towards (and away from) certain features.
Think about a double page spread in a newspaper. In terms of layout, we see clear design choices such as the size of margins and spacing between the lines and columns – these considerations afford the design room to breathe and, as a result, communicate effectively. In newspapers where there is no narrow black line in place to separate one story from another, there’s always a certain amount of whitespace to enable readers to distinguish where one article ends and another begins. This whitespace links closely with hierarchy (such as enlarged, emboldened headings, which set themselves apart from the smaller body copy) in order to guide the audience.
You may have realised by now that, intentionally or not, you’ve made design considerations using whitespace before. No doubt at some point or other you’ve booted up Microsoft Word, entered your document title and hit the return button several times in order to separate your main body of text and add some structure to your document. It’s highly likely you’ve used indented bullet point lists. Chances are some of you have played around with line spacing, as well as margins and columns. It may be a basic example, but even a simple Word document shows whitespace in action.