When you think about all the things you need to include in a website design, I bet white space doesn’t make your list. Though it should.
Contrary to what you might think, white space isn’t emptiness. White space is actually one of the most powerful creative elements in web design.
If you’re wondering what white space is, and how it can play a role in your website design, keep reading. In this article, we’ll define the design term and the benefits of using it when learning how to make a website. Plus, we’ll go over some of the best practices and examples to demonstrate how to incorporate it into your own site.
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What is white space?
White space commonly refers to negative space—the unmarked area around and within visual web design elements such as imagery, logos and text. The following exemplify different types of white space:
Wide margins on a page
Spaces between text blocks and those between each letter (also known as kerning in typography)
The negative space within or around images
White space gained popularity in the first half of the 20th century. Since then, artists and web designers have recognized its significance and versatility, regularly incorporating white space into their work.
When designing a website, white space can balance a visual area, direct visitors’ eyes to certain areas, and even improve user experience. It doesn’t have to be white, or even a solid color, either.
In the website template example below, the gradient background (a popular web design trend) is considered white space, despite its color, since it frames the subject. The space between the navigation menu links on the website header is also white space:
What are the benefits of using white space in web design?
While white space might be “invisible” to the viewer, it plays an important part in their user experience, benefitting both the website visitors and the brand behind it:
Enhances legibility: With the right amount of white space between letters, words and lines, visitors can quickly read and comprehend your content, which is especially important in the age of skim reading.
Creates harmony: When the web feels noisy and cluttered, a well-balanced and minimally-designed website with white space can help visitors feel safe, comfortable and focused.
Reinforces your brand tone: As a modern website design element, white space can communicate your brand’s personality and style.
Helps organize: When designing a website, the use of white space can help enforce visual hierarchy. Negative space helps create an organized flow between content on your pages, improving your site’s usability.
Propels visitors to take action: White space can highlight critical calls-to-action (CTAs), directing visitors, for example, to schedule an appointment, buy a product, or reach out for more information.
Best practices for using white space in web design
Whether you customize a website template or build a site from scratch, use the following white space best practices when adding new content to your design:
01. Use both micro and macro white space
Micro and macro white space each serve a different purpose on your site.
Micro white space refers to the spaces around smaller elements on a web page, such as text. Implement micro white space to increase readability. Even the smallest change in micro white space can detract from or improve legibility.
Macro white space refers to the larger spaces of a web design, for example, those between different sections on a single page or images within a photo gallery. Implement macro white space onto your site to improve user experience by increasing visibility and organizing your content.
02. Don’t go overboard
As we’ve seen, white space can enhance your website design. But deciding how much to use can be tricky. To ensure that each use of white space serves a purpose, ask yourself the following questions:
Does this space look too empty?
Can visitors easily read and understand what they see?
Is it obvious where visitors’ eyes should focus?
Does the white space interfere or enhance the surrounding elements?
What is the ideal amount of white space? Apart from your personal design preferences, have enough white space to improve focus for visitors and increase engagement, without your site (and brand) appearing sloppy or sparse.
3. Manage visual hierarchy with white space
A website’s visual hierarchy refers to the path a visitor’s eye follows on a page. Cluttered website layouts make it hard for visitors to know what details to focus on or where to go next.
White space highlights the most important parts of a page, clearing the visual hierarchy for visitors and increasing their confidence and satisfaction with your brand experience.
The example below contains four blocks of services which can be stacked and spaced in a variety of ways. The right combination of white space, ordering and layering clarifies the visual hierarchy, making it easier for visitors to read each service description and complete their booking.
4. Pay close attention to the white space around your CTAs
The most useful websites have a primary call-to-action button: For a restaurant website it might be “Make a Reservation.” For eCommerce businesses, it’s “Buy Now.” For a blog, a common CTA is “Subscribe.”
You should surround your site’s CTAs with white space. It doesn’t mean that you should isolate your text or buttons, but add enough white space so that visitors can easily find and click them CTA without distraction.
Call-to-action buttons aren’t the only design element that benefits from white space. Think about website forms: If visitors can’t easily find a contact or checkout form, they may abandon the sign-up process entirely.
5. Don’t forget about mobile
With less space to play with on smaller screens, white space greatly affects mobile websites, too.
For instance, take this sample About page below. The large header “About Me” has two paragraphs beneath it. On desktop, this looks good thanks to the page’s wide margins.
However, when you switch to mobile, notice how the margins constrict. When viewing a website from a mobile device, these paragraphs might look too long and intimidating on the thin screen.
The solution? On mobile, start with the users’ experience in mind. For readability, increase your font size or add extra paragraph breaks. Then, begin to experiment with white space to enhance the look of your mobile site.