White Space in Website Design - Nothing Is Something

By Gregory Smyth

White space is something that designers have to be trained to use. It can be one of the hardest concepts to grasp and use intuitively. For those who have learned to use white space in print design, migrating to website design requires another re-think of the use of white space. In some cases, too much white space actually turns visitors off, leading them to miss important information.

Online marketing agencies and internet consulting firms now realize that the tolerance for white space in website design is much less than in print advertising. White space in the wrong areas, for example just above and below the fold, can lead your visitors to miss entire sections of your web page, thinking that they have reached the bottom. People expect much less white space on websites than they do in print graphic arts - information is the generally the purpose of their visit, and information conveyance cannot be achieved through white space. Pages that look visually attractive can still miss their web marketing strategy goals entirely through incorrect white space use.

However, white space is essential to organizing information in website design. Elements that are more closely related need to have less white space between them, while more distinct elements need to be further apart, organized in a tiered hierarchical system. The most important element of white space is the leading for your copy, or the space between lines. This is generally set at 120%-150% of the point size of the type itself, so 10pt type usually has leading of 12pt-15pt. 20pt type will have leading of between 24pt and 30pt. Smaller than this, and the copy is not scannable (web analytics packages reveal hat visitors get frustrated and leave), and larger than this, and attention tends to wander, and the message is lost.

Margins are another area of white space that is essential to all website designs. Your site will most likely be set to fit within the common screen resolution du jour - 800x600 pixels was once the standard, however this has since expanded to 1024x768 and will constantly shift over time. You should also pay attention to margins within your page, though. The space between the navigation bar and body copy, between sidebars, graphics and text, and between headings and preceding paragraphs is important to help readers separate elements mentally.

White space takes on added importance when reading material on the web, because the display brightness creates an added visual strain for visitors. Any large chunks of text will actually cause pain to a visitor to read - there are few web pages that people will actually suffer to read. Online marketing agencies often find that although 1024x768 is a common screen resolution for people to view pages at, copy is best placed in an area that fits well in an 800x600 resolution. Smaller line lengths are easier to follow. If article distribution or press release distribution is part of your internet marketing strategy, you'll particularly notice the difference between reading your articles on sites that are designed for lower resolution screens, and sites designed for higher resolution ones.