In this article, White Space in UX Design, we will learn what white space (or also known as negative space) is and why it is essential in UX design. 

White space is a valuable design technique when it comes to creating layouts. One of the best ways to place several design elements or visual hierarchy on a page and let these elements breathe is to apply white or negative space.

In this article, we will also discuss the following:

Creating white or negative space on the design is not hard to learn, and you only need to know the basics of creating a room around each element, whether in text, image, or graphics form. 

Make sure that you leave enough room around each element to have a visual users focus of their own. 

This way, when someone looks at your design, they can quickly get a feel for it and take the message you are trying to convey. Because of this factor, white space is considered a legitimate design element that significantly impacts user experience. 


What is white space?

White negative space is the area between the design elements, which is also the space within individual design elements that include the space between readable texts. 

Despite its name, the white text does not need to be white or more empty space, and it can appear in any color, texture, pattern, or background image. 

Most of the time, white space can become a problem between clients and UX designers. The design theory promotes negative space to make an elegant design and ensure a quality user experience. 

However, some clients consider negative space as wasted space, and they often think the space could have been of better use to house information or other visual elements.  

The need to use negative space is crucial when balancing design elements and organizing content better to help improve visual communication and user experience. 

For example, a technical writer working on creating hundreds of manuals for an appliance company should have experience balancing the words and images on the page. 

Only a few people read manuals for entertainment. Thus, it is imperative to catch the user's attention. This is where white space is most needed, working between words and pictures, and it keeps the page from looking too busy. And instead of calling support, people will refer to the manual and read how to troubleshoot on their own. 

As a UX designer, you also have to know the fact that people often get frustrated when it comes to information overload. We are humans, after all, not machines. White space is a design element that helps us breathe and calm down. 

And like other user interface elements, you need to fully understand the role that white space plays by experimenting with the right balance between this element and the rest of the design elements.  


The types of white space

When it comes to designing user interfaces for websites and free medium app, the use of white space is an essential factor in promoting high usability and navigational ability of the interface or visual hierarchy. 

There are two types of white space. White space is commonly categorized based on the density of micro white space and its relationship to macro white space. These are ratios and proportions.

Micro white space

The micro white space is a small space between space in UI design elements. You can find it between lines and paragraphs, including the small space between grid images and the area used to separate menu links.

Micro negative space has a direct impact on content legibility. The marginal area of micro space, for example, affects the reading speed and comprehension of the users. However, when the text appears outside the margins of regular paragraphs in micro spaces, people read it more slowly, and they find it harder to understand than the texts without these margins or grid system.

Macro white space

Macro negative space is the ample space in between significant UI design elements and the space surrounding the space in UI design layout. You will find the macro white space to the right and the left of the website's content, including the space between a website's content blocks.

Compared to micro white space, the macro white space acts as a container of the overall UI design. This is the "big picture" white space that people quickly notice. 

A perfect example of the macro white space is the Google search homepage. Its iconic look is defined as simple and calming. There is no clutter, making it easier for the reader's eyes and mind. Also, the focus is achieved right away, which is to search for something. 


Active and passive white spaces

Besides defining micro and macro white space, UX designers can also look at white areas being active or passive:

Active white space

This is the white space that is used to enhance the page structure and help guide the user through the page's content.

Passive white space

This negative space is applied to improve the aesthetics of the layout without guiding the users through a specific reading, flow, or order of content. 

Let's look at the example image below:

The image above shows the difference between the text with white space applied and with no negative space applied. It also offers active and passive white spaces.

On the left side, the text does not have any precise amount of white space between characters, rows, paragraphs, etc. It is noticeable the lack of white space that makes the text crushed and compressed. Thus, very hard to read.

In the middle part, passive and micro white spaces are added. Thus, compared to the left side, this is much easier to read.

On the right section, there are active white or empty spaces added to guide the readers through the text. Thus, the complicated text to read in the first section was turned into a familiar format that readers are used to seeing. 


When to use the right space in UX design?

The use of micro and macro negative space will depend on the following factors:

Content

The rule for content is that less white space will be available with more range in the layout. 

On the contrary, there will be white space if little content is available on the page. 

This compromise is essential, or else, the pages would become solid chunks of data, and thus, it will be challenging to read. 

Design

The user interfaces design influences the ratio between the micro and the macro white spaces in the layout. The UX designer can choose the design style, which can bias the structure to one type of white space over another.

User

Conducting user research can determine the utilization and balance of macro and micro white spaces for a specific market. There is no golden rule to apply here. However, UX designers should always check with the target users to know which technique or method to utilize. 

Branding message

Using white space can determine the company's budget as well as the quality of the product. For example, Apple, Benz, and IKEA. How do these companies support this theory?


Three elements to consider when designing white empty space

Legibility

Micro white space helps make the interface content legible. As a UX designer, you need to consider white space when it comes to designing typography specs like font, size, color, style, and others. 

We've seen a considerable difference from the above image example when changing the white space layout, and it has a significant effect on reading performance and overall user experience. 

Design tone and branding

We all know that white space contributes to the overall tone of the design. Some websites use a lot of macro space to reflect minimalism and sophistication. 

Some websites use small macro white line spacing because they are more informative, as in the case of news websites. 

Try to test the use of different white spaces on your website to tell how your users perceive your designs. 

Focus and attention

White space also guides the users through interactive content, and it builds focal points and directs the users' attention to specified layouts of the website. 

Part of the strategic planning for a website is prioritizing the specific design elements of content. As a designer, you can use varied elements to highlight a particular section or element on the design. 


White space design tips 

Follow the law of proximity

The amount of white space between elements in the user interface shows how the elements are related to one another. 

In the law of proximity, it suggests:

  • Related elements should be spaced closer together, while unrelated elements should be further apart.
  • The same types of elements should be spaced evenly apart.

You may follow these basic rules to organize and perceive logical groupings in the user interface. 

White space in UI works well with the text's size, weight, and color to convey the visual hierarchy of elements in the UI.

Start from a baseline of the considerable amount of white space in UI

Let the design breathe, and a reliable way to improve the interface's usability is to ensure there is a significant amount of white space between the elements. 

Utilize the white space to focus the attention on a specific design element/s

Less information and more minor design elements on the web page provide clarity and focus, and it also draws attention to the information and elements that are already on the page.

White space can add emphasis to the text, and it can be used in combination with (and even an alternative to) bumping up the text size, changing color, weight, and case of the text 

Use the same method for measuring the space in web design and implementation

The space between adjacent text elements can be measured in one of these two ways:

Between adjacent bounding boxes

This is one of the most common UI rendering engine methods for measuring space. 

However, this method is not precise because there is an excess space that is unaccounted for at the top and bottom of each bounding box.  

Between adjacent cap heights

Compared to the first method, this is more precise. However, it could complicate the implementation. 

Both methods are reasonable, but they offer different trade-offs. The most important thing to remember here is the same method for measuring space is used in both design and implementation. The goal is to guarantee that the design can accurately be translated into codes.

Utilize a spacing system

A spacing system helps specify the set of possible line spacing values to utilize in a design, and this helps bring a sense of consistency and harmony to the user interface.

A line spacing system is to white line spacing what a color palette is to color. Similar to a color palette, a spacing system forces the web design to make UI design decisions from a set of constrained options.

 With a line spacing system, the UX designer only needs to consider a handful of spacing values from the system during the UI design process. This makes the design iteration a lot faster and more systematic. 

Avoid using very similar spacing values

When it comes to spacing values that are mathematically different but visually similar, users perceive logical groupings in the UI as ambiguous. In this sense, contrast matters. 

When the intention is for spacing values to be different, make it evident that the values are, in fact, different.  

If the spacing above and below are too similar, which element is more associated with the page is unclear.

However, sufficient space below each action row helps clarify the relationship between an element and its associated actions on the page.

Try having a more comprehensive range of values in your spacing system, making an apparent difference between adjacent spacing values.

Reduce the line height as the text size increases

Increasing the text size while keeping the proportional line-height will result in having too much white space between each line of the text.

Relative to the text size, the proportional line height of the headings should be less than the line height of the body copy. 

When it comes to smaller line height, the two lines of text should be perceived as a single visual group.

Informationally dense UI should rely on other techniques (besides white space) to convey how elements in the UI relate to each other elements

For example:

  • Adding a subtle fill or border around a group of related elements
  • Using a line to separate adjacent elements that are related closely and vertically. Using an interpunct character (".") as a way to separate adjacent elements that are horizontally placed.
  • Changing the text's size, case, weight, and color to associate or differentiate several UI elements.

By increasing the information density by reducing white space text size and adding a subtle horizontal line that guarantees the adjacent rows are perceived as visually distinct.

Utilizing the interface with an information-dense UI elements make it more efficient to use. However, remember that an information-dense UI does not need to be cluttered or overwhelming.


Conclusion

White space is not an empty canvas in design. Instead, it is one of the powerful UX design elements used to focus a specific element on the page through insightful and dynamic thinking, associate a group of similar UI elements, and make the entire UI user-friendly. 

White space can be a challenge for designers when it comes to the application since it is both a science and an art. 

Understanding how to properly utilize white space requires a lot of experimentation and practice. TheThe more you design, the more you will learn.

Mary Ann Dalangin

About the author

A content marketing strategist and a UX writer with years of experience in the digital marketing industry.

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