Drawing A Blank (White Space as a Design Element)
What is White Space?
The word itself suggests that the space should be white, but in reality ‘white space’ doesn’t necessarily have to be white. White space is simply the empty space between the elements of a design. Though it got its name from the early days where most printing was done on the white paper, now the word doesn’t have any reference to the actual color. You might also hear it called ‘Negative Space’.
While it would be easy to dimiss white space as not very important since it’s an area that doesn’t have any content, in fact the ‘white space’ is as important as all the other parts of your design and should be viewed as an element. Many of us admire the great CAS (Clean and Simple) designs we see but even if you tend towards a more elaborate and embellished style you shouldn’t dismiss those benefits that white space can bring to a design. Most often even those designs with lots of elements and details (though in much smaller quantites) use white space too.
What does White Space do?
Visually, white spaces give organization to our designs. It gives a visual relief to the viewer and white space, when placed around your other elements aides in drawing attention to those area(s) — in most cases our focal point — through the contrast it provides. Studies about the way humans interpret the visual stimulus that tell us the human eye would prefer to look at things which are not over-crowded and heavy to the eyes. Using even just a little space serves as a breathing room for the eye. The way you use your negative/white space helps to balance your design and it keeps the viewer’s eyes focused on the objects.
How do you use White Space?
You don’t need formulas for how much space to use at varying spots. Just pay attention to it and ask if the spaces you’re creating when you lay things down are pleasing and deliberate. As with any of the design elements, excessive use of white space could make a design look incomplete or boring so the key is to use it effectively. When you are leaving a space stop and ask yourself what it will do for your overall design. The more design experience you gain the easier it will become to sense where adding or elimintaing white space will strengthen your design.
Sometimes filling an open space or rearranging elements to eliminate an uncomfortable space makes sense and is a good idea but remember that just becasue there is a space that could be filled doesn’t mean you should put something in it. Great design takes all the space available into consideration, both used and unused elements.
Let’s look at some cards that show great use of white space as a design element…
The generous white space surrounding Barb’s big, bold flower leaves no doubt about what the focal point is in this card. The close positioning of the sentiment creates a strong relationship between it and the flower, guiding the eye right down to it from the flower.
The use of a big white space gives Dixie’s card a beautfiul CAS feel. The heart and sentiment are positioned so that they are taken in as one element by the viewer and give weight to the bottom of the card.
Coordinated framing layers give Lee Mae’s card a polished feel and the white space again draws the eye right to the flower and then over to the sentiment.
Julie’s ‘white space’ is actually the kraft color. It makes a simple but dramtic background that draws your eye directly to the cups. (Did you also notice the other bootcamp lessons at work here, including repetition, variation and use of odd numbers)?
The wide white space that Lynn has used to frame the busier area of her design gives the eye a nice resting space. The embossing of it adds nice texture while maintaining the ‘restful’ effect of the white.
Jan’s done the opposite of Lynn and made her border the more active, colorful area surrounding a nice resting area of white space that contains her focal point image and sentiment. Again placed in a close relationship they are seen as one element by the viewer’s eye.
Remember that ‘white space’ can be any color and in Sandy’s card it’s black. The crisp contrast of the white circle containing the focal point image, framed by the hot pink border leaves no doubt about where your eye is immediately drawn. Consider how here too, the various parts are all intertwined in a strong relationship.
As I mentioned in last month’s bootcamp the Elements and Pricniples of Design are well established. Our world is filled with things from tech gadgets to breakfast cereal boxes that all incorporate design. If you’re still not convinced of the power of white space you might find it interesting to look around and stop to consider that products in every type of luxury market (Apple, Tiffany, Dior, Mercedes Benz, etc.) almost always use generous white space in all their branding. They want their product to always be the center of attention. It’s not accidental that cheaper, less widely recognized products/brands tend to come in very colorful, busier packages, while luxury brands use minimal colors and generous white space.
Novice designers often tend to forget that white space should be treated as a design element and often try to fill all the available space. When you are working on white spaces, it’s important to remember that white space may be an empty area but when used deliberatly it will never make your design look empty. There really is truth to the age old adage that sometimes… Less is More!
For a little more advanced lesson in white space check out this great post by Susan Raihala for a beautifully illustrated lesson on ‘Trapped White Space’.
Create a card using generous white space to frame your focal point and guide the viewer’s eye and share it here.