Whitespace is a whole lot more than, well, white space. Also known as negative space, it’s a core concept in the visual arts that plays a key role in the aesthetic composition of a page.

In web design, whitespace refers to the space between elements in a web page, such as blocks of text or graphics. It also doesn’t have to be white; it can be different colours or even a carefully selected clutter-free image, like a sky or wall.

Why whitespace matters

What makes it so important? “Whitespace allows your content elements to be more contextual and discernible from each other,” says Chris Fantauzzi, Lead Front End Developer at Motum B2B.

Going back to the visual arts, negative space — whether it’s in a sculpture, photograph or painting — is a technique that can be used to draw the viewer’s eye to particular places, emphasize certain elements and even contribute to the overall mood of the piece.

Similarly, whitespace in web design allows for better readability because the content is more spaced out and easier to digest, guiding viewers to the important elements on a page.

“Whitespace allows us to put more emphasis on visuals or animations, and it also allows us to make things like CTAs more prominent,” says Kelly Ann McNamara, Web Developer at Motum B2B. Judicious use of space helps brands highlight their important messages and improves the user experience.

“We never want our users to be overwhelmed. We want to make sure that they can find the content they are looking for,” Kelly adds.

Minimalism, so hot right now

Whitespace is a growing trend in the web design world as screens get larger and computers get faster. “Whitespace on the web is becoming a lot more prevalent,” says Chris. “By viewing websites continuously, we’re being trained to know the patterns of content placement and where to find it.”

Back in the day, newspapers used to cram the most attention-grabbing content on the top half of the page, above the fold in the large sheets of paper. Some designers use this concept in the portion of a website that is visible before you need to scroll. But while “above the fold” was a golden rule in the newspaper era, that trend is dying.

"With the web, I think we're putting more emphasis on giving things breathability,” says Chris. “Your competitor may have 300 percent more content above the fold, but it doesn't mean that someone's going to be able to find the content on that site faster.”

Different strokes

Whitespace is a crucial aspect of design, which brings us to one of the potential challenges with whitespace: design is subjective.

“One challenge that we consistently have with design, and whitespace in general, is personal preference,” explains Kelly. “Whitespace is a design element, and all design elements are influenced by personal preference.”

“Design is a constant battle between beauty over functionality,” adds Chris. “I want the user to get where they need to go fast, but I also don't want to overload them and make it too functional. It's got to be beautiful as well.”

Like personal preference, use of whitespace varies from client to client to match their individual tones. “Everything we do is a language, just like the whitespace on a website is consistent across the whole site because that's part of the tone of that website,” says Chris.

We’re all human

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that your readers are like you: they want to be able to find what they’re looking for without being bombarded by menus and text. Proper use of whitespace is a necessary element of every page on your site, and it can be the difference between a reader staying on your site or leaving it.

Still not convinced on the potential of empty space on your website? Talk to one of our amazing web developers. They’ll tell you everything you need to know.