Working primarily in web design, I’ve often heard of webspace referred to as “real estate.” Screen real estate. This same concept applies in print design. Working within a fixed medium, it’s only natural to want to fill this limited amount of space with as much content as possible, but this isn’t always the most effective approach.

Whitespace is not a literal term. Not always, at least. It simply refers to the negative space within a design – the space between the elements. But negative space shouldn’t be confused with empty space or wasted space. Negative space is very much intentional, as intentional as the content on the page.

Negative space, or whitespace, ideally contributes to a design in one of two ways, actively or passively. Active whitespace is utilized to guide the users eye flow to a particular element, whereas passive whitespace serves as “breathing room” – a visual break not to be underestimated.

One of the simplest ways to lighten a heavy, text-based design without sacrificing content is by manipulating the passive whitespace. Here we have two examples of the same block of text functioning within comparable boundaries, but with a slight variance in character spacing.

As seen on the right, by reducing the type size a mere 2 points, the vertical spacing between the lines (leading), horizontal spacing between characters (kerning), and word spacing can be used to create an increase in whitespace, reducing the designs’ visual complexity. This minor adjustment has a major impact on the effectiveness of the design.

The vast appeal of whitespace is much more extensive than these 296 words give it credit for, however, by finally moving away from the notion that whitespace is essentially “wasted real estate,” it can be utilized as an effective and powerful tool in design.


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