White Spaces in Graphic Design
White Space is a term used in graphic design, and design in general, to denote the space between and surrounding other design elements. Despite the name, White Space can be any colour, texture, or pattern, and in graphic design refers to any areas of a design not taken up by other elements like text, images, or illustrations. White Space, also referred to as Negative Space, plays a key role in influencing how a viewer perceives a design as a whole and is instrumental in creating designs that are visually balanced and unified.
As a graphic designer, whether you are working on a brochure design, website or social media content design, a logo, or PowerPoint presentation design, it’s important to understand the effects of white space, how white space functions, and how these effects can be utilised as a tool to create more effective designs.
In this article, we will consider white space and how it is applied in graphic design. We will explain the function of white space as a design concept and will discuss the benefits that white space can bring for a graphic designer. We will also consider a few examples of the effective use of white spaces in graphic design and discuss tips on how you can employ white space as a tool to enhance the clarity and effectiveness of your designs.
White Space as a Graphic Design Element
In developing design ideas, it’s crucial for graphic designers to understand that white space in a design is not just empty space, but an active design element. It serves a structural role in creating harmony and balance, contrasts with other design elements, and can also be used to guide a viewer from one element to another.
Influential designer and calligrapher Jan Tschichold, who played a major role in the development of graphic design in the 20th Century, argued that “Whitespace is to be regarded as an active element, not a passive background.” Like colour, images, and layout structure, white space serves an important function and has a significant effect on how the viewer experiences a design.
Let’s consider a few examples that illustrate the effective use of white space in design. McDonalds Free wi-fi advert design (see image 2) illuminates the successful use of white space in helping to create clarity and helping to focus attention on the key message of the design. The advert is intended to promote the availability of free wi-fi in their restaurants and features McDonalds fries arranged to resemble the small radar symbol for wi-fi. The focal point is surrounded by white space coloured in McDonald’s brand colour red.
As this advert design shows, white space can be employed as a tool to balance and structure a design, create a sense of clarity and focus, and organise content to improve the visual communication experience. The effective use of negative space ensures that the viewer’s eye rest on the focal point of the design. Harnessing the power of negative space in design helps create compelling visual content that combines minimal shapes with simple iconography.
Clarity is an integral property of good design. Designs should have clarity so that all viewers can absorb the message effectively. White space is instrumental in channelling the eyes towards the key content and allows your message to stand out. Without whitespace, designs can risk looking muddled and can lack focus, and may even overpower the viewer or distract them from absorbing the key message.
Apple is a brand that makes excellent use of white space in their design and advertising. Apple’s recent iMac advert design (see image 3) utilizes large areas of white space, which serves to focus attention on their new product as the focal point, and eliminates any element not essential to communicating the message. Apple use white space to communicate a sense of simplicity and to reflect the user-friendliness of its products.
Without the thoughtful and skilful use of white space, a design can easily become cluttered, unappealing, and overwhelming to the viewer. Apple’s advert design demonstrates how white space can allow designers to create balance and space in their design, while also emphasising certain elements like a slogan or an image of a product.
As the McDonalds and Apple advert designs show, white space is not just empty space. White spaces serve a critical role structuring a design, giving other design elements more clarity and space to breathe, influencing visual hierarchy and emphasising focal design elements. While the positive spaces in a design – the design itself – should be the main focus, negative space is just as important. Negative space shares edges with the positive space, defines the outline of the design and creates proportion.
White Space in Text
White space also plays an important role in structuring and presenting text more effectively. Brochures, presentation designs, and magazine designs will usually include blocks of text that need to be carefully incorporated into the design. Image 4 illustrates how the careful use of white space helps make text more visually appealing, legible, and easier to digest. The text on the left contains no white space and stands in contrast to examples of texts arranged with the use of white space. It’s clear that the text on the left is poorly presented, has no clear structure, is visually uninviting and would be more challenging to read. The text on the right is presented with more clarity, with spacing between the heading, paragraphs, and quotation, and margins – the blank area between the text and the edge of the page – giving the text more space to breathe and making it easier and more pleasant to read.
Viewing the text on the left alongside the text on the right gives a clear visual demonstration of the important role of white space and the effects it can have on any design or visual presentation. White space is a visual tool to separate and organise different elements like images or paragraphs of texts that also enhances a designs visual appearance and style and gives the design structure and space to breathe.
How You Can Use White Spaces in Graphic Design
Now that we have a better understanding of white space and have reviewed examples of how it has been used effectively, we will list four practical tips on how you can implement white spaces more effectively to help shape, organise, and create more clarity in your designs.
- Leave large spaces clear – Deliberate and purposeful white space can help create a strong visual focus. Large white spaces around other design elements will help to emphasise and draw the viewers’ attention towards the most important aspects of your design.
- Identify one important aspect of your design, enlarge this aspect, and make it prominent, while keeping other design elements slight and marginal.
- Use spacing to pair related objects, design elements and text, clarifying relationships and connections between design elements, and create space and separation between unrelated objects.
- Ensure all text including line spacing, margins, and spacing between paragraphs and headings to improve readability and comprehension and emphasise important text.
White space is a powerful instrument in graphic design and serves an important role for graphic designers. When appropriately applied, it is an integral part of visual design, and critical in giving a design focus, shape, and clarity. As a designer, you should be conscious of the risks of overloading your designs with unnecessary clutter or confusion. With the proper use of white space, and by following our practical tips, you can avoid these pitfalls and give your designs the space and structure they need to breathe and shine.
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