White Space: Not the Final Frontier

Posted August 21, 2013, under Gosh, That's Handy!

Did you know that one of the most powerful tools in a designer’s arsenal is nothing? It’s true! But it’s also one of the most misused – and misunderstood.

Beetle ad - old

Beetle ad - new

Volkswagen is famous for the dramatic use of white space in its advertising.
1959; ca. 2010.

Much Ado

The technical term for “nothing” in design is “white space” or “negative space,” and its usefulness cannot be overstated. The spaces between visible elements is an integral part of forwarding the message. It can help you guide a reader’s eye, emphasize or de-emphasize, compartment information, or just give them a break. 

White space doesn’t have to be white, just empty. Emptiness is surprisingly flexible: It can convey simplicity, elegance, humbleness or even ostentation. 

A common misconception is that empty space is wasted space, that professional appearance or value depends on filling every inch.

The truth is often the opposite: Properly applied, negative space has brought us some of the world’s most memorable ads and logos. But don’t just take our word for it.




These logos use white space to create new shapes and messages. (source)
Notice the arrow, the peacock and the S?

Other Uses of White Space

Definition: The margins – top, bottom, and either side – is the space between the “live area” (primary text and graphics) of the page and the trim (where the page is cut) or window limit on computers. Sometimes headers, footers, page numbers, copyrights, etc., are placed within the margins.

Alley & Gutter
Definition: These terms are used to describe the blank space between two columns of text. This space is used to help keep the reader’s eye from jumping over to the next column.

They’re also used to describe the space or offset between wrapped text (text columns that follow the shape of something else).

The inside margins or blank space between two facing pages are sometimes referred to specifically as the gutter. This is the extra space allowance used to accommodate the binding in books and magazines.

Sometimes, in saddle-stitched (stapled) publications the amount of gutter as well as the outside margins need to be adjusted to allow for creep. Creep is what happens when larger numbers of pages are wrapped over each other. The cover sheet winds up the largest because it has more pages it has to sandwich.