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Four dark stones framed by lots of white space

Using Active White Space

Brian Austin
Brian Austin Ebooks

Our world is rich in components that we can't easily see, hear, feel, touch and taste, yet which when harnessed or managed, can make life better. Take electricity for example: we can't see electricity - at least not with the naked eye - nevertheless we know that electric current exists.

In the same way, when creating a wide range of publications, there's one component that can seem invisible yet which can affect both the readability of your document and generally how usable it is.

Why so important? If end users don't sufficiently read and use your documents in the way you intend, certainly in business, your profits can be affected - sometimes severely.

The Two Components That Make Up Every Document

When writing a publication, we have two main elements:

  • The text and / or graphical content. For web pages, we can include audio and video content too.
  • How the document is designed.

In this tip, we're concerned with a key ingredient of the document design, but which often, is not given sufficient consideration. Why: it's not a part that we can easily "see" even if we're looking at our document constantly. How is that you may ask. Answer: often, our focus is simply elsewhere - usually on the text. So just what are we referring to?

If you are charged with or responsible for designing the layout as well as the writing of an article, book, e-book, web site, or any other type of publication, never forget the simple power of the empty or "white space" that which surrounds your text and which is subtly woven into your document design.

Key tip: "White space" has an unusual power all of its own. At first glance, we may think that white space has no values. Yet,  the main practical benefit of using "white space" is that it creates a kind of invisible barrier, to help draw the reader's eye into the document to focus on the content - your primary goal for any publication!

The phrase "white space" of course simply refers to those areas of a document page on which no text or graphics are placed, so in practice, "white space" can of course be any color. We are using "white" here for that which is often the traditional color of a printed / electronic page or web page.

Key tip: although "white space" seems empty in terms of content, when used with consideration, "white space" becomes active in the sense that it can frame our document in a way that can make a big difference in outcome.

Considered use of "white space" certainly adds to the quality of your content and is equally beneficial when applied to:

  • All kinds of printed documents.
  • PDF electronic documents and e-books.
  • Web pages - especially web pages today, many of which contain masses of useless, detracting clutter.

How to Tap Into the Power of "White space"

Consider the following guidelines to make the best use of "white space" in your documents:

  • Whenever you're seeking to provide an immediate impression of quality, built with a planned and unhurried presentation, opt to use a generous amount of "white" space at the top, bottom, left and right sides of your document.
  • To help improve readability of your text, add more space between adjacent vertical lines than is usually provide by default in word processor software. For web designs, the amount of "white space" is best changed by updating your CSS file. For example, this website uses CSS-based design. That means, whenever we want to change the amount "white space" for any text component, we only need change the appropriate setting in one file to automatically update every web page throughout the web site. Using the power of CSS, you can change the look of hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands of web pages instantly!
  • You can instantly make headings and sub-headings also act as signposts when you add a carefully measured vertical space before and between a heading or sub-heading and its related text.
  • For best results, in general, plan to use about 50% of your document as "white space". Why? wide margins on the left, right, top and bottom of you page puts over an impression of confidence and suggests lavish richness, exclusivity and splendor. However, "white space" used in web design is applied differently to that in printed publications and PDF e-books, so requires additional knowledge and forethought.