Nothing sells like Whitespace

The website owner detested it – her web customers loved it

On a web page the space between messages is:

  • sometimes called “wasted space”
  • technically called “whitespace” or negative space.
  • often anything but white

Whitespace” in web design refers to empty areas between text, images and other elements of design. It is often white but could just as easily be black or any colour.

Whitespace and the beach

‘Negative’ space is the web equivalent to the ocean’s invigorating ‘negative’ ions. You can’t see the stuff but you know it’s there because you feel so good when it’s around.

Whitespace used astutely is not wasted space. It improves readability and makes your website’s messages more palatable to your visitors.

A picture frame with "White Space Sells" inside

When customers scan a webpage where everything is jammed in with no clear space around elements, they know reading and navigating is going to be unpleasant.

Perservere with your website? Likely as not they won’t bother

And why would they? If a company’s website is unpleasant to use why should they expect anything different from the rest of their service.

So if  your web page seems wastefully spacious don’t see it as wasted space necessarily, think of the user’s relief upon opening it. Imagine them breathing deeply of the negative ions surrounding your content, text, buttons, boxes and lists… and smiling.

Creative sculpture demonstrating web design whitespace

Creative sculpture by

A webpage with ample whitespace is easily scanned, and will be

Chaperro, Shaikh, and Baker
had this to say about web page design back in 2005.

Layout on a Web page (white space and advanced layout of headers, indentation, and figures) may not measurably influence performance, but it does influence satisfaction.

Understandably, as the owner of a website who has paid good money for your real estate you want your to make the most of it to promote your services or products. You probably have many important messages you want to get across to customers but it’s important you ‘spend’ your customer’s limited attention wisely.

Whitespace when used astutely will make your website more readable, as the examples in Mark Boulton’s article on whitespace text with little whitespace

website text with whitespace

Whitespace lets the message sink in

According to Dr. Eric Schaffer’s research in 2004 whitespace between paragraphs and around web page text actually helps customers understand your message.

Sometimes whitespace is overun by content.  Messages are crammed into the top of the page when there is concern that web users won’t scroll down the page. However Jacob Nielsen’s research team back in 1997 proved this concern to be unfounded and according to Clicktale Research nothing has changed.

Used wisely whitespace will sell your message and sell you to your online customers.

Alistair McAlpine is an experienced broadcaster and the resident writer/web strategist for internet marketing company Web Success in Wellington, New Zealand.

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