Deep fried whitespace

Much ado about nothing
Recently I was introduced to the joys of whitebait. With no previous experience or desire to eat tiny fish whole and knowing all the ick that slops around inside a regular fish, I wasn’t hugely keen. Turns out I was missing out; whitebait are quite delightfully crunchy and the fact that you can see their little eyes bulging as you bite them in half isn’t off-putting at all.

Whitebait, however, are mostly unrelated to whitespace. Both are liable to be misunderstood and can even be considered controversial, but delightful when used appropriately.

Whitespace (definition)The areas of a page without print or pictures.

Whitespace is the absence of things, the space between elements, the gaps that let the eyes "rest" between images or sections of text. It's the breathing space of the page, the elbow room in your design, an ocean between continents. Within images and logos a near identical phenomenon can be found in negative space, best described as the part of the design created by the rest of the design. One of the most famous examples of negative space is the arrow (shown in red below) within the FedEx logo created by Lindon Leader in 1994.

Why use whitespace?
How about increased legibility and audience attention? Do you need a powerful way to imply elegance, openness and freshness? Whitespace creates an aura of classiness and calm, yet draws attention better than a design crammed with information.

Getting an eel for it 
I believe it's important to consider the use of whitespace in every design; even if you're making something that doesn't have an excessive degree of whitespace, you'll always be using it to some degree. The gaps between words and characters is sometimes referred to as 'micro whitespace', the handling of which can make or break a design.

These 'gaps' between lines (and carriage returns) perfectly highlight the importance of whitespace - you don't even notice it's there, but it's creating balance and breathing room in the text. If it works so well here, it's only a tiny jump to using space throughout a page for a similar effect.

Fun fact: Whitespace doesn’t have to be white, the name is simply a throwback from the origins of the term in 1946, when the majority of publications were printed on white stock. 

Sea water mean?
Whitespace is an extravagance left over from the old days. Look, it says, we don't need your money; we're so wealthy and confident we'll make our message small and waste the rest of this paper. You'll buy from us because you can tell we must be the best at what we do. 

The danger with whitespace is to overdo it and end up with a design that looks unfinished, untidy or broken. Sometimes this can be a fine line to tread, but within an email all you need to do is to keep a relationship between elements and keep this relationship consistent. For instance, a carriage return between paragraphs creates a nice pause, but 3 carriage returns might lose the relationship between them and make people think the topics are separate.

Consistency is key with good whitespace management. If you have a carriage return between heading and body copy, keep it that way throughout. If your images are 250px wide and centred, continue in this format. It's always good to have a friend or colleague look over your work and judge it as unflinchingly as your intended audience will.

Without a doubt a consideration of whitespace is vital to every design. In our day to day life in email design we're constantly striving to achieve the right balance of content and space for every client. Good use of whitespace is all about balance, so it takes practice to get a feel for how much to use in any given situation, but it's always worth spending the time.