Whether I’m editing a page or reviewing a document, the first action I take has nothing to do with the words.
Instead, I scroll down at a moderate pace to determine how it looks.
My reasoning is obvious:
What isn’t there makes it easier for a reader to focus on what is there.
There are two types of white space:
- Active … Space intentionally left blank for a better structure and layout. It also gives emphasis to the content area. It leads a reader from one element to another.
- Passive … Empty space around the outside of the page or blank areas inside the content that’s the by-product of the layout process.
Psychologists call it the Gestalt Principle: The eye would prefer to view an item that isn’t cluttered.
White space facilitates this, allowing for more effective communication by framing the information that is there.
Here’s an example of how we use active white space at The Daily Player, our snarky sports site. We’re insistent that every article be formatted to include it so as to emphasize these elements:
- The first sentence is stand-alone and serves as a de facto sub-headline to further entice the reader to continue;
- The second paragraph must be no longer than two concise sentences;
- A graphic must appear within 10-12 lines into the content;
- No paragraph will be longer than three sentences; and
- A graphic — in full or in part — must be visible on any screen at all times.
Take a look at the opening portion of this page on the site:
We clearly have a template that’s working for us. This shouldn’t be a surprise, as it’s based on the Gestalt Principle. The reader’s eyes remain focused and relaxed while cruising from element to element.
White space makes it happen, serving as a subtle guide.
So, as a result of nothing, we get something in return. A lot of something.
As will you.