White space and negative space are misnomers really as they certainly don’t have to be white and there is nothing negative about them, they’re catch-all terms for clear space in a design.
Less is more
Quite often design decisions can be as much about what NOT to include or what to actively remove, as much as they are about what to keep or add to a layout. A design with very little white space will look cramped, be more difficult to read (and therefore less likely to be read) and generally look cheap. The more space you can attribute to having essentially ‘nothing’ in it, the higher-quality the product will appear to be.
Take for example a leaflet for a pizza delivery service versus a corporate sales brochure for a prestige car, or a local trade publication versus a high-end glossy magazine. Each of these examples would have very different design styles because they are appealing to different markets and/or to different buying decisions. In general products and services that need to be perceived as higher-value, higher-quality or more exclusive will be presented using far more restrained layouts and considerably less text than something that is cheaper, more abundant or trades on price. It’s a psychological effect really – in the higher end designs it essentially says, we have a great product (and we charge accordingly) and so we don’t need to give you lots of detail. They are demonstrating that they don’t need to skimp on the production values or use every last part of every page available – they can effectively ‘waste’ all of this space, but of course, it is not wasted at all, it all serves to enhance the product.
Negative space in logo design
An alternative name for white space is ‘negative’ space, but this is also used in logo design to refer to clever design details that give the impression of something by the mere absence of something else. This is not as confusing as it sounds. For a great example take a look at the WWF (not the wrestling one!) logo – there are no lines joining the top of the head or the Panda’s back, but your brain fills them in any way. You could easily draw the missing lines in, but this would complicate the illustration without any added benefit. Other great examples are the Guild of Food Writers and the Swan and Mallard pub sign.
How to make good use of white space in your marketing materials
White space in layouts for print and web refers to the whole gamut of spacing within the design
- Headlines and intros: Your headline and intro paragraphs have to have an appropriate level of white space between them and the body text that follows. Too ‘tight’ and it’ll look like you are trying to save space, but too loose and it will look strung out and like you’ve made an error
- Line-spacing: The spacing between the lines of text in your paragraphs in the body text, and between the headlines and intros is vital in making it easily legible.
- Gutters: When you have multiple columns of text the gutter is the vertical space between them and needs to do more than just stop the two columns of text crashing into one another. A generous gutter will make the text more inviting, and easier to read as well
- Margins: The margins are the spaces in areas of the paper (or screen) that occur at the top, bottom, left and right of the content. They help ‘place’ the content into the design, and help it ‘breathe’, without adequate margins the design looks ragged, overfilled and much more difficult to read
- Paragraph spacing: There need not be any horizontal spacing between paragraphs of text (this can be achieved with an indent on the first line), but it does provide a natural ‘resting point’ for the reader and enhances the appeal of the overall page
- Bullet points: There needs to be a good balance of space between each of the following (and generally all of these spaces need to be subtly different to achieve a balanced look): The list of bullets and the paragraph of text that precedes and follows it, each line (if the bullets wrap onto multiple lines), and each bullet point
- Images: You need to have adequate space when flowing text around an image
- Captions: These need to have neat spacing between them and the image they relate to, but also between them and any surrounding paragraphs of text
There are no hard and fast rules regarding spacing as it will vary dependent on the material, the audience and the style of the piece, but experiment with space and don’t be afraid of it. It is your friend and with practice is a vital tool in enhancing the appeal of any marketing material. Take a look at the visual guide below…
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