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Less is more – Negative space in UI design

Embracing the void with whitespace.

What is negative space?

Negative space, also known as white space, is the area of an interface that is left empty or unoccupied.

Negative space in UI design

It can be used to create a sense of balance and harmony in a design, and it can help draw attention to the important elements on the same screen.

White space can also create a sense of visual clarity and simplicity, making the website more user-friendly and easy to navigate.

2 to-dos 🙌

GIF by Great Big Story

i. Reduce clutter

Demonstrating what we mean with some common scenarios:

Client: Hey should we stretch out the form fields to fill out the whole page?

Designer: ⛔️
Just like when our brains are crammed with too many thoughts, it can feel overwhelming – having a page where your eye needs to keep absorbing new elements in all directions can feel suffocating!

Client: Ooh should we add some photos to fill up the rightmost side of the page?

Designer: ⛔️
Let your user’s eyes breathe!

ii. Rethink context

Context matters for smaller versus bigger spaces! When you have pieces like: buttons, icons, dividers, etc., you can use small amounts of space to provide padding around them and it is sufficient.

For separation between UI elements – like forms or sections or dialog boxes – we need to use considerable amounts of whitespace to reinforce the demarcation. Thus, what works for one section might not work every time – we need to think harder!

2 don’t-dos 🙅

GIF by Warner Archive

1. Do not fill up the page with just “whiteness”

Negative space in web design is not only “#ffffff”.

It is also colour, texture, pattern, anything that produces visual breaks to separate different elements on the page.

Using too much “whiteness” will inevitably distract your audience from the positive space and result in an ineffective design. Consider an alternative use of positive and negative space, and keeping an eye on the spatial distribution of information when designing the interface.

2. Do not forget your brand and users

Focusing on the aesthetics of web pages is one thing, ignoring the brand and users is quite another. Remember to go through the brand and the user journey of your target audience when applying negative spacing into the design. Since white space can be used to create a sense of visual hierarchy and separating different elements on the page, always make sure these visual breaks improve navigation for your user, instead of bringing confusion by the overly sparse and uninviting look.

Apple’s websites are a good example of how trimming excess information can help with engagement. The caveats around spacing would apply to your landing page, your high-conversion pages as well as your low-traffic pages. Simply because white space in design doesn’t grab attention. Its value shouldn’t be undermined.

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