Proficient visual artists understand the importance of taking advantage of negative space, empty areas that accentuate the actual subject, which the designer wishes to feature. Negative space can be compared to an artist’s white space that features their artwork. The minimalistic environment that pervades the scene only serves to bring attention to the accompanying art pieces hanging on the bare walls.
The fundamental concept that negative space is centered upon, the Gestalt Principle, touches upon how humans interpret visual stimulus. It is human nature to be unwilling to spend and expend resources, which is why the Gestalt Principle establishes that “less is more”. This simply means that our brain would prefer to view things that are not heavy on the eyes and crowded with detail. Take heed to white space and it will pave the way to effective user interaction and a memorable user experience.
Negative space can be boiled down into four components: content white space, text white space, layout white space, and visual white space. Content white space refers to the space that separates columns and rows of text; text white space is the spacing between lines and letters; layout white space are the margins and paddings; and visual white space indicates the spacing around graphics.
Think of your interface as your workspace, too much clutter will overload the senses. On the contrary, reducing the mess will clear the senses and improve your comprehension. All the same, if your interface is tightly-packed, users will struggle comprehending the information on your interface.
The simple task of appropriating the proper margins and white space surrounding paragraphs (layout white space) can improve comprehension up to 20%, according to Dmitry Fadeyev, founder of Usaura. A good rule of thumb is to provide your users with the right amount of digestible content, while stripping away any, and all, redundant, superfluous details.
Let’s go back to our friend Gestalt — who we were talking about earlier, you know the guy who basically scientifically proved that less is more — who has defined a law that theorizes upon the perception of objects close to each other. The Gestalt Law of Proximity states that items near each other, or in close proximity, tend to be grouped together. This behavioral observation has applications important to user interaction design.
Be sure to group related topics with each other, especially when dealing with long forms. Lengthy forms may appear intimidating and overwhelming, it can scare your users away before even considering giving it a chance. Breaking the information into digestible chunks will help your users feel that it is more reasonable.
If you have 18 fields, go ahead and split it into six groups of three, it will ease the process for your users regardless of the size and amount of information you feed your users. This is because it is presented in a much more manageable manner that leaves a better impression and experience for your users. If you have not done so, another way to aid in clarifying relationships is to transform and organize your navigation system into a dropdown menu that serves as a directory with top-level items and subcategories.
Again, the use of negative space helps accentuate upon the actual subject and brings your users to focus on what actually matters on your interface. Study Apple’s website and you’ll quickly be drawn to the center of the screen where their products are featured. Google’s homepage has barely evolved since its inception (their company logo and a search bar), because the search engine company has realized that all people really care about is searching for their answers.
Many interaction designers internalize the idea of “don’t make the user think”. Not because users aren’t intelligent to understand what they are being presented, it’s because people are already preoccupied with so many things to begin with already; their interactions must be as automated as possible.
If interaction designers don’t aim to make their interfaces second nature to its user, they will only encourage “cognitive load”, the amount of strain users have to think when interacting with their interface. Minimizing the cognitive load on users will greatly make your user interface a more satisfying experience, let alone a more usable product.
One function white space serves, which many don’t realize, is that negative space, or the lack thereof, can create varying degrees of luxury. Minimalism has become synonymous with luxury, and its manipulation brings about an atmosphere of elegance, grace and sophistication. High-end fashion lines notoriously use white space on their websites, whilst bargain-hunting websites relatively minimize their white space.
According to a study from San Jose State University, the perception of luxury has a direct correlation to the amount of white space. Little white space can be seen as cheap and low-quality; it feels cluttered, which doesn’t give users a favorable experience. Balanced white space, seen on more contemporary websites, offer a perception of affordable, yet quality user interaction experience. Heavy white space, commonly seen in high fashion, is seen as lavish and expensive.
As an interaction designer, you must begin and end with the needs of your users as the forefront of your designs. What is the appropriate use of white space that will help foster positive relationships with your users? Interaction designers must consider their targeted demographic and use the suitable amount of white space to frame their content in the best manner possible so they may realize their goals.
Do not neglect the value of negative space. Flip the concept on its head and take a peek at the World’s Worst Website Ever. The website should only reinforce the importance of white space. Failing to recognize and adhere to the guiding principles of negative space can breed negative synergy across your website and you’ll risk losing valuable user interaction. In interaction design, negative space isn’t just an aesthetic choice, it is also a utilitarian design that serves many functions. It is with white space that user interaction design can help create a sense of balance and fluidity in the user’s experience, while in the process serve content in an efficient manner.