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In Defence of “White Space”
"The toughest part about design is knowing when not to."
That's a phrase I often say when speaking to younger designers and design students. Sometimes I get a knowing glance, other times a pregnant pause, with hopes that an understanding will quickly seep in before any response is required.
"White space." Almost a cliché among the design community, it draws many comments and rolling of eyes, mainly because it's one of the most misunderstood and least respected tools that a designer uses. It is the open or negative space, void of content, photographs or graphic adornment. And it's a valuable commodity in almost any area of creativity.
"I'm paying for the printing and paper, lets put ink all over it." "Lets put all the information on the front page." I've heard these words from time to time, and have had both successes and failures in trying to explain the importance of this powerful emptiness. In writing this article I will attempt to give value to this nothing, a nothing that creates a greater value to everything else.
But first, let me define "white space." It doesn't have to be white at all. It can have ink, motion, sound or just about anything in it. It's simply a pause in the activity, visual or otherwise. It's a wide white matte around a photograph. It's a pause, a moment of silence before the powerful downbeat of a musical composition, it's the slow fade in of a movie before you recognize the opening image, it's space around a logo or image in a promotional piece or website for a company. And in every case it does the same thing. It functions as a pause, the palest of brackets indicating that within lies something important. Another phrase I use to make a similar point is "If you make everything yell, nothing is heard." So "white space" is the whisper, or the silence before a statement of emphasis, a rest, a pause, a lack of distraction.
A personal pet peeve of mine is logging on to a website or picking up a printed piece and seeing a busy texture of text and small graphics everywhere. A million little elements, all saying "look at me" in the same volume. It really is simple human visual psychology. When confronted with the visual equivalent of a crowd of people all loudly talking at the same volume, the inclination is to turn away and look for simpler information from a fewer number of voices. Another analogy is this, when looking at a page with solid text, top to bottom, left to right, it looks like work to read it. It feels like it will take an investment of time. This often results in putting the paper on a "to read" pile, only to have it migrate to the trash in a few months. Whereas, a short and open page looks easy and requires only a minute or two to read. An idea that appears simple and is actually read is infinitely better than a complex, labor intensive idea that is never given the time to comprehend.
As I write these articles I frequently find myself thinking "yes, but there are exceptions to this so called "rule" that I'm defending. And this is no exception. There are many cases where a busy layout gives the impression of a wide offering, a smorgasbord of information, vitality in a business or simply an appropriate style for an era or business niche. There are some very interesting design styles that create visual activity. But even these styles, in the days when the younger audience is becoming more and more used to greater and more active visual input, without an understanding of pacing and a visual pause, an important promotional message can quickly becomes an "interesting" but unabsorbed piece of junk mail.
This concept quickly leads into the topic of visual hierarchy, or the dominance of one element vs. another and the order in which they are observed by the viewer. But, in keeping with the topic at hand, and without flooding you with a ton more of text, this will have to be discussed in another article. So if I were to simplify this article, here it is. "White space" is our friend. And used well, will make a message stronger. And a stronger message yields stronger results.
Now, go back top the top and tell me which card draws more attention to a dot.
A Thousand Words (give or take a few)
A number of months ago I was invited to be interviewed by Dave Miller Associates (a business coach and consultant company). The topic was the value of a design firm and how to best work with one. In addition to their personal coaching, Dave Miller Associates interviews business experts on a variety of topics in order to help their client base navigate the difficult and various issues in running a business. The interview was sent to their client base and placed on their web site.
A general belief of mine is that we get better at what we do often. In this case, as a designer, I feel perfectly comfortable working out the visual strategy or design composition for almost anything, but I have to say, I was a little nervous about the interview. Well, like many concerns, in retrospect the importance fades and any fears or worries become silly reminders that we are all human. The interview went very well and was a lot of fun.
New Works From AXIS
Below are a few sample of recent work done for Veloce Audio. AXIS was responsible for their logo, brochure, trade show materials and web site.
To see many more samples of our work please visit our website at www.axisvisual.com
Problem Solver No. 1
Thank you for taking the time to read this. If we can help with your design and marketing needs feel free to contact us.