As part of my job I’m often asked to critique Intranets, not just my own, or my teams, but new customers, old customers and competitors and I’m surprised at how often white space takes a bashing.

In some circumstances I feel guilty about my feedback, as I fully understand why people have overlooked white space, but then I remember that we’ve always had to deal with a “content value” reality. Why bother with relevance If you kill your users desire to consume content by overloading them with a seemingly endless wall of information, why bother if they can’t read it, why bother if they can’t find it.

Poor old forgotten and abused white space, so I thought I would blog about it, why? Because I think it is a huge part of successful design and an imperative part of user experience. It’s vital to information scanning, it frames and divides content, it’s a powerful tool in design and content flow, and it changes a wall of text into concise and relevant content.

When we apply the laws of Gestalt Psychology, we understand the power of white space, these are lessons mastered through the ages, applied through the centuries to strengthen the power of the content we deliver.

What is it white space?

It’s the space between graphics, margins, borders, lines of type and images, white space is essentially the absence of content.

White space is not an afterthought, it should be a planned(or considered) element in your design, use it to balance positive and negative space to complete an aesthetic composition.

Use of white space

You can very easily have too little white space, it is quite possibly the biggest single mistake I see in all these designs. It’s also one of the first give aways I spot when the development is not designed by someone trained in graphic/web design. White space is integral to the success of a design, and in some circumstances is the only element that makes a design succeed.

White space in usability

We spend time fighting for real estate trying to fit as much content into the display page as possible in our quest for user relevance, but good UX is not just about squeezing context into a page, it’s about imparting as much information in as little time as possible. There are a number of way’s to achieve this, but one of the most important ways is by ensuring information is delivered in consumable chunks, both visually and textually.

Designers should use white space to make content areas more legible, investing time and effort into getting the spacing, leading and kerning optimised for content delivery. On a micro level this is as important as writing for the web.

Black space is sometimes white space

White space isn’t always white, it’s the “negative” spaces between content, white space can be black, coloured, or lightly textured, the real test is in it’s application.

Forget me not

I’ve been looking at the My Beautiful Intranet 2011 entries on the Intranet Benchmarking forum and there are examples of great Intranets, but in a few cases I can see that there has been little or no consideration in the use of white space. I get that nagging feeling that something is not quite right in a design, content bleeds into other content, or the page is just far too busy to keep my attention.

So next time you’re thinking about a redesign, or maybe a first design, remember to give white space the consideration it deserves, plan for it.


Here’s some knowledge, a link to White Space and Simplicity:An overview a 2007 Article in Smashing Magazine.