When Less is More: The case against “cramming in crap”

Why do graphic designers love white space and clients hate it?

Because designers know the technicalities of why, how and when to use it. Clients just want to fill it. They’ve generally paid top dollar for space in a glossy magazine, newspaper or catalogue etc. and feel every square centimeter represents valuable real estate that must be filled within an inch of its life!

The problem with this approach is that it defeats the sole purpose of advertising – to get a message across. A clear, consistent message that directs the reader to do exactly what you want them to do. If an ad is “crammed full of crap”, you’re trying to get too many messages across and guess what – none of them will hit home. The viewer doesn’t know where to look, what to read first or where to rest their eyes. They don’t know what you want them to do. They move on to something clearer, easier to digest and get the gist of at a glance. That $3500 you spent on a half page in a glossy magazine is wasted. Unless you make friends with white space.

White space is nice space

Starting to see the value of white space? Here’s some examples of the good and the bad. Compare the two. See which you gravitate towards and away from. Which ones hurt your eyes and which ones draw you in to read more?

bad advertising design space usage example vs good space usage example

bad advertising design space usage example vs good space usage example

bad advertising design space usage example vs good space usage example

How much is too much?

When it comes to key messaging in an ad, any more than two is too many. Notice in the “Good” examples above, the visual hierarchy of the key messages is SUPER clear. Thanks to the help of white space and a clear vision from the marketing team, the viewer knows exactly what the advertiser is trying to say – at a glance. And that’s the key to effective advertising:

  1. Telling the viewer exactly what you want them to know
  2. Telling them exactly what you want them to do about it, and
  3. Telling them in just a few seconds – at a glance.

So how do you use white space well? There’s two types of white space you’ll need to know about – Active White Space and Passive White Space.

Active white space

…is intentionally used to surround an image or message to draw the eye towards whatever breaks that white space. Think of it like looking down at a cruise ship in the ocean from a plane window. The more ocean there is around the cruise ship, the more you focus on it. If it was surrounded by 15 other cruise ships, you probably wouldn’t focus on any particular one. It’s the same in advertising.

Rule of Thumb:

If you want someone to hone in and focus on your product or message, surround it with white space.

Passive White Space

…occurs naturally when images or text are placed on a page and space appears between words, lines or graphic elements. Once you have passive white space happening naturally, you can then increase it or reduce it attract or detract attention from particular elements.

Rule of Thumb:

If you’re not getting enough passive white space naturally, you’re cramming in too much crap! Go back and refine your key messages. Strip out the rest of the clutter.

5 reasons to learn to love white space

  1. White space cuts clutter and makes your messaging pop
  2. White space attracts attention to whatever’s sitting in the middle of it
  3. White space creates visual hierarchy for messaging, images and text
  4. White space is elegant – it makes any design instantly look classier
  5. White space is proven to increase readability, comprehension and conversion rates (sales)

What’s not to love?!?

Still not convinced…

If you’re still shedding tears over the loss of real estate in your $3500 half page glossy mag ad, check out these incredibly cool examples of clever use of negative white space and start feeling its power.

Various advertisements with good design space

And a bonus 1-Hour Social Media Training Workshop for anyone who can spot the clever goodness in the world-famous FedEx logo:


Fedex design space example

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Send your answer through and we’ll book you in for free   ENTER HERE

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