Create breathing room by embracing white space

05.14.2020Food for thought, insights, Tips

I’m a constant life-tinkerer, constantly trying out different ways to be more efficient and effective. One thing that’s stuck with me is the idea of building white space into my days. Without it, it’s easy to jump from one thing to the next without stopping to reflect, to really understand what’s important. This space makes me feel so much calmer and more able to focus on the tasks at hand without a sense of overwhelm creeping in.

What is white space?

White space is the space between design elements, but also within design elements, the part of a design left blank (and no, it doesn’t actually have to be white). It can include margins, column spacing, leading and kerning (spacing between lines and letters), space around graphics or images – the choices made around each element combine to give a design an overall feeling of spaciousness or density.

Yet when I’m designing a publication, there’s always someone who asks me to add in one more graphic or block of text “because we have the space”. As in life, there are people who are afraid of white space, who feel like it is a waste.

Not me! I couldn’t love white space more. This same need for white space in my life applies to the designs I work on. Words and concepts, especially the complex content that we work with, need space to breathe too. Publications that are too cluttered quickly lose my attention – the sheer overwhelm of the content does my head in.

What white space can do for your work

  • White space clearly shows your eye where to focus
  • Your designs will feel more considered, nuanced (and even more professional)
  • It allows your eye to rest between dense pieces of information
  • Extra space gives your content a sense of lightness that is energizing (rather than draining)
  • White space can help keep people engaged longer

Some great publications with white space to spare

UNAIDS is an organization that I find consistently uses white space to great effect – their publications and designs feel fresh and light and just work. Here are a few examples of publications where they make great use of white space, and why I think they work. 


Extra wide margins breathe

Using super wide margins not only means that your eye can easily digest the text without distractions, it also gives you space for call outs, eye-catching quotes or icons. Extra wide margins feel are a luxurious use of space – not all publications can afford to use them, but when you can it can make all the difference.

It's not all black and white

White space doesn’t need to be just big expanses of white page. Colorful open space can serve the same purpose, giving your eye a place to rest, and pointing it towards a central image or message.

Let the images speak for themselves

Not all images need a lot of text alongside of them. Sometimes it’s enough to have a small caption or minimal description and let the photos speak for themselves.

Don't crowd your graphics

You don’t need excessive text alongside your graphics – especially if they’re complex, that can overwhelm a page. Use colors and icons to make the content understood without loads of text.

Balance text with graphics

Balance out dense text blocks with spacious graphics and plenty of margin to avoid overwhelming the reader with content. (Note that it’s fine to have pages of blocks of just text, though – you don’t need to have images on EVERY page, that can get overwhelming itself!)

It’s worth the effort

White space isn’t always easy to create, I get that. It takes more effort to concisely craft your message than just to brain dump words onto paper. It can take longer to create a graphic that sums up a whole section. But it can be the difference between your audience really getting your work, and having the clarity to know exactly what you

Give white space a try

We all have a lot to say about our work. But the next time you’re confronted with a design decision, make the choice to create a little more

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