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What is White Space in Web Design: Using Negative Space to Create an Effective Website

This guide answers the question, “What is white space,” and shares best practices for strategically using negative space to design more effective websites.

Build compelling websites and map out the ultimate user experience by strategically using white space in your web design.

Have you ever wondered why your favorite websites are so eye-catching and easy to navigate? Or what drives you to keep scrolling, clicking, and exploring the elements on each page? The answer lies in the strategic use of white space.

So, what is white space? Although it may appear as mere empty space, it’s actually an invisible thread guiding you through site content. The extra room prevents the page from looking cluttered and draws attention to the most important details.

Learning to use white space effectively is key in building sites that attract, engage, and convert. If that’s your goal, this guide is for you. Let’s take an in-depth look at what white space is and how to use it.

What is white space?

White space is all the blank areas in a design. It’s also known as negative space, empty space, and sometimes spelled as whitespace. A plain background, the border around images, and even the spaces between letters are all white space. Despite its name, this empty space can be any color, just as long as it breaks up the page and gives the other design elements breathing room.

Talented artists, photographers, and web designers all purposefully use negative space to produce truly remarkable works. When used effectively, white space goes unnoticed but significantly influences how the viewer interacts with the composition. The empty areas guide the eye while keeping the design from overwhelming the senses.

In web design, the effective use of white space reduces visual clutter and prevents cognitive overload. It keeps people on the website longer, improves their focus on the content, and inspires action. Visitors are more likely to click buttons and links, follow calls to action, and have a more positive experience overall.

Different types of white space

Using negative space to your advantage is an art form. It’s the perfect dance between macro and micro white space that creates a harmonious balance in design. Here’s how that works.

Macro white space

Macro white space lays down the foundation for your informational, entertainment, or e-commerce site. Macro white space examples include:

  • Page margins
  • Padding between images in a photo gallery
  • Empty areas around your call-to-action buttons
  • Negative space around your logo
  • Space between navigational icons

If you’re using a website builder, your theme may automatically adjust the amount of empty space in the design. Otherwise, you’re in complete control of how far apart you put each design element, such as text blocks, images, and contact forms.

Micro white space

Micro white space is the amount of room given to text elements and images arranged in a pattern. These tiny bits of negative space are even less noticeable than macro white space but are every bit as important.

The readability of your web content depends on creating the proper amount of space between individual letters, lines, and paragraphs. If you cannot clearly distinguish between each element, it’s nearly impossible to scan—as most website visitors do—much less actually read a chunk of text.

You can see this in action by switching a paragraph from sentence case to all uppercase letters. For example, “Minimal design is cool” versus “MINIMAL DESIGN IS COOL.” Also, choose your font size and type carefully. Many stylized fonts look pretty but they’re much harder to read than simple sans serif fonts.

Small bits of white space are also essential in keeping imagery separate when it’s arranged in a grid or other pattern. The blank gaps help viewers see where each photo, illustration, or graphic starts and ends, which helps improve the browsing experience.

Passive vs. active white space

A well-designed website will have both passive and active white space. Passive space automatically generates as you build the layout and add elements. Active white space is the intentional use of wide margins, lots of cushion, and other blank areas to guide people through the content. Together, these two types of white space produce attractive web page designs and keep visitors focused while browsing your site.

The impact of blank space in web design

Achieving the right balance of macro and micro white space can elevate your web design in the following ways.

Creates a modern and clean design

The days of GeoCities-style sites are long gone and thank goodness for that. While interesting, most of those sites were the very picture of bad design: chaotic layouts, wild color schemes, and, worst of all, an overwhelming amount of stuff crammed into every pixel.

A newfound focus on the user experience changed all that, resulting in the drive to produce clean, modern web designs. All it takes is knowing where to break up the content with white space. The blank areas cut through the clutter to create an attractive design that helps your brand make an excellent first impression.

Improves website scannability

A well-designed site has an easily scannable layout that lets visitors find information quickly. Their eyes will move in an F-pattern or Z-pattern in search of a header, keyword, or image that captures their attention. If they cannot find their desired information within a few seconds, they’ll hit the back button and try the next site.

Creating a visual hierarchy that matches the typical scanning pattern requires the masterful use of white space. Macro white space positions the most important elements in the visitor’s line of sight. Micro space improves the readability of the text, so your website visitors can see if your site has what they’re looking for at a glance.

Enhances the user experience

People want more than a website that’s just nice to look at or provides the right information. They want the full package: an inviting, user-friendly space that delivers the right information in a minimal amount of time.

Blank space helps you do all that by making your pages attractive, scannable, and easy to read. It’s also the secret to making your entire website a breeze to navigate and interact with in a meaningful way. All this adds up to an excellent user experience that inspires visitors to build a lasting relationship with your brand.

Increases conversion rates

Creating an effective call to action is a balancing act. You want to avoid overwhelming, bright, flashing arrows pointing in its direction. But you also want the CTA button to stand out from the rest of the content.

So, what are you to do? Simply leave a lot of space around your CTA to keep the focus on the offer. This reduces the risk of nearby elements distracting visitors before they take the desired action, potentially boosting conversion rates by over 200%.

Best ways to use white space effectively

Simply giving web page elements extra room doesn’t have the same effect as using white space strategically. You need to use the right amount of spacing for each target area to ensure it makes a positive impact. Here are several ways you can do that while creating your design.

Think of white space as a design element

Always use white space as deliberately as you would any other design element. Think about where it makes sense on the page to best accent the other elements and improve overall flow. Add a dollop here, a dash there, and you’ll quickly start to see its power in elevating your web design.

Balance macro and micro negative space

Achieving balance with macro and micro negative space makes for a website that’s easy on the eyes. Start with macro white space to create a layout that separates the elements while maintaining a cohesive design. Then, adjust the micro white space to improve readability above all else.

Stay consistent with your empty space

Although you’re spacing the elements out, the blank areas should still tie everything together to promote a sense of unity and streamline navigation. The best way to do that is by staying consistent with your empty space. Using the exact same amount of room between graphic elements makes the layout visually pleasing and guides visitors through the whole page.

Aim to build a strong visual hierarchy

A strong visual hierarchy helps people understand what your page is all about and draws their attention to the target elements. The strategic placement of each element establishes the foundation, but white space adds emphasis to each key focal point. Use it wisely to shine the spotlight on what you want your readers to focus on most.

Cushion your call to action buttons

Put your calls to action on a pedestal by surrounding them with plenty of white space. To help them stand out even more, make them a contrasting color and write copy that’s descriptive but short and to the point. Use A/B testing to find the right combination that maximizes your conversion rate.

Consider white space accessibility guidelines

A perfect balance of white space to content is good for everyone, but it’s especially beneficial for people with cognitive and learning disabilities. The World Wide Web Consortium offers guidelines for web designers to follow in improving usability for everyone. In addition to the basic best practices, they suggest allowing visitors to adjust white space using a setting or extension and keeping important info above the fold.

Adapt graphic design elements for all devices

A website built only for computer users won’t always display correctly on mobile devices. The difference in screen sizes and shapes changes how the site shows up, potentially impacting usability. Creating a responsive design allows you to keep up with the times and makes your site accessible to people on all platforms.

Five websites using white space effectively

When a designer strategically uses white space, it’s instantly noticeable. Explore the following websites for a good example on how to do it right.

  • Apple understands that its customers know what they want, and its homepage design reflects that clarity. Each product on the homepage has room to shine and just enough imagery and text to let visitors know what they’re looking at.
  • Slack helps streamline the workday, starting from the very first interaction with its customers. The smart use of white space gets its messaging across while making it easy to see where to click to learn more and sign up.
  • Wealthsimple takes the stress out of handling money matters by using white space as a vehicle for storytelling. Each section takes up the entire screen, featuring a clean and calming design that guides your focus to the message and prompts you to click the CTA buttons.
  • Progressive Punctuation is on a mission to improve online communication with nonstandard punctuation marks. White space helps the site on that journey by giving each symbol room to capture the visitor’s attention and get people thinking about how to use them.
  • Lamborghini knows its car designs speak for themselves, which is why it smartly employs white space to let it do just that. Each scroll reveals the most iconic models and gives you plenty of room to dream.

Ample breathing room makes all the difference

The age-old saying, “Less is more,” definitely holds true when we talk about white space in web design. Giving all visual elements enough room on the page creates a powerful design that makes your website a true pleasure to visit. Even though there might not be a lot of stuff on the page, the extra room actually works to your advantage by making your messaging read loud and clear. So, let white space work its magic and see what it can do for your brand.

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