What to do with white space?

1 Mar

The desire to fill white space in an ad is like going up for a third plate of ribs and potatoes at a buffet – it’s there, and you’ve already paid for it. The subjective argument that white space makes an ad more appealing is one easily countered by the equally subjective claim that the ad looks unbalanced or the rational argument that white space doesn’t sell.

So what are some things you can do with white space?

Spread out existing elements: probably not a good idea
• Elements placed together imply they are related – and keeps communication clear. Spreading elements out defeats that.
• Elements placed all over the ad creates the clutter of multiple alignments (adjacent elements can often be considered one element, and the fewer elements the better).
• Too much leading in copy makes it difficult to read.

Add more copy: probably not a good idea
• People often scan an ad to see what the time investment will be to read it – added copy increases the number of people who will pass on reading it at all.
• People could read the added copy at the expense of copy that’s already there. Is the added copy vital to clear communication?

Add a design flourish: probably not a good idea
• If a border or line is dividing unrelated elements or helping transition from image to copy, good.
• Otherwise, it exists only to be pretty and is taking attention away from other elements that have something to communicate.

Make an existing element bigger: maybe a good idea
• If you’re strengthening a clear hierarchy between the elements so the reader knows what order to follow, good.
• If you’re making something smaller the same size as something else that’s bigger, they’ll compete for attention, not good.

Add an image: this could be a good idea. An image can:
• Pay off a headline
• Support the tone of the copy (eg, an ad for a relaxing holiday has a relaxing seaside image)
• Show people enjoying the product or just being happy (supports tone, but beware that once you use people, readers that do not see themselves as being like your models may decide the product isn’t right for them either*)

Newspaper banners and online skyscrapers/leaderboards are more prone to white space because of their awkward sizes. Their benefit is media placement, not the possibility of spellbinding design.

A hearty recommendation for this book, which helps us non-designers understand why art directors do what they do.

*is this why advertisers with broad audiences like Coke and Telus often use animals and animated characters?


2 Responses to “What to do with white space?”

  1. sgoth March 1, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    You know what could use some white space? This ultra-long blog post!! bada-boom.

    (ha, I beat you all to it!)

  2. dougbrowncreative March 1, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

    You even beat yourself to it Shaner. Good tips though. With so much visual clutter in our media, white space is like an oasis…it draws your eye to it, so you can take a breath.

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