Advertisers have long known about the power of subliminal messaging – the way that a message speaks to the subconscious mind. When a graphic artist uses white space, they are leveraging that principle to boost the marketing impact of a design. Effective use of white space can make or break a product or even a brand. Content may be king, but the framing of that content is crucial – and white space is largely about framing the elements of a design and showcasing them to draw the attention of the viewer.
It’s useful to compare white space in design to the function of rests, or silence, in music. Without spaces between notes, the overall effect is noise. Similarly, a design that is too packed with text or graphics is overwhelming to the eye and loses the power to deliver an effective message.
In label design, white space, also known as negative space, plays the critical role of separating and highlighting various elements in the frame. It is the empty area between elements. It serves to declutter a design and make it more visually appealing.
White space can be divided into two primary categories: active and passive. Active white space is the space intentionally left between larger elements in a design, and adds emphasis and structure. It tells the brain, “This is important. Pay attention.”
Passive white space, on the other hand, occurs naturally between words and letters, or in the area around a logo or other graphic element.
White space lends a dynamic aspect to design. It can allow the brain to fill in the gaps not occupied by images, words, or symbols, therefore inviting the viewer to use their imagination and resulting in a more engaging experience. Large amounts of white space can lend an elegant look and connote luxury or sophistication, while jamming a design with content or imagery may cheapen the impression of a brand.
Grouping of objects in a frame is an effective use of white space and takes advantage of a principle of Gestalt psychology known as the Law of Proximity. According to this maxim, the brain takes visual shortcuts based on the perception that objects placed near one another appear related. This understanding can be used to help to guide the viewer’s eye easily from one field to another on a label and enable them to make logical sense of the information.
White space is often misunderstood as “empty” or “wasted” space in a design frame. In reality, it is essential to helping the message stand out. Consequently designers have an important educational role to play vis-à-vis marketing directors by showing them how effective use of white space adds balance and value to a design, and in the process creates lines of communication between the viewer and the design. Ultimately, it’s about the way in which the design supports the brand.
Does your label design make effective use of white space? If not, it may be time to have a conversation with your graphic designer.