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Adam Smith

Managing Director

A Compelling Argument for White Space

This is an ongoing conversation that will never die. Designers around the world have been trying to explain the merits of white space for years. Clients around the globe will always want to make the most of their real estate. So, what happens in a deadlock?

We totally get it - why leave a space blank when another image or message can be added in? Why make the user scroll when it can all squeeze in above the fold?

This certainly isn’t a case of trying to say ‘the designer is always right’ - that’s an arrogance that can lose clients and kill an agency. A great design is one where both the client and designer have combined their different approaches and experiences to produce a masterpiece. A designer can’t be right until he understands the client.

I think this is the trap many agencies and designers fall into. This just results in a lot of back and forth, and a design neither the designer not the client is happy with - a lose lose. While the client always has the final say, a great designer is one that trusts the client to know their audience better than they do, and a good client is one that trusts the designer to make the right decisions.

So why do designers bang on about white space all the time? Why are they sometimes indifferent to the fold?

It’s not unusual to want all content above the fold - and in previous years this did make a difference. But that was 5+ years ago. Most people are familiar with innovation adoption lifecycle, whereby early adopters only form a small percentage, and it takes a while for the early and late majority to catch up. Years back, internet users (particularly laggards) weren’t all that familiar with how to use a browser, so content below the fold would sometimes get missed. But it’s not just users that have moved on, it’s also the technology. Remember when you had to move the mouse to the scroll bar and pull down? A particularly dexterous task on a track pad! Now, scrolling is a doddle thanks to the magic mouse and iPad, and even crappy Dell PC’s in large corporations will have a scroll wheel. So these days, remember that both users and technology have moved on - users expect to scroll, as such, the argument for all content above the fold is no longer that relevant.

Now that we’re happy with scrolling and we don’t need to be top heavy on content - that has another direct benefit in reducing clutter.

So to continue on why designers love white space - it actually goes beyond the argument that we shouldn’t bombard the user with information - it’s not just the lack of content that makes whitespace effective, it’s the white area itself.

Marketeers have been using sensory tricks to sell products for years. Bakeries use a chemical called RV184 to drive customers into their shop via the smell of freshly baked bread, and car dealerships have a spray called C30 that smells of fresh leather. This is a very powerful way to sell.

Obviously we can’t make websites that smell (although Google Labs are probably on that), but we can use sensory marketing for sight. Our ‘pleasure’ brain reacts to contrasts and brilliance - a more contrasted, highlighted test is more likely to be read and believed. People are not in a buying mood when depressed, which is why many stores have twilight sensors that increase the lighting slightly when skies are grey to produce a more uplifting light level.

That’s why most ecommerce stores are on a white background - it’s not just the lack of ‘stuff’ and refined clarity that makes white space so appealing to designers - it’s also neuromarketing at work. Lovely bright sites are a joy to use.

So next time a designer suggests it’s not essential to fill every possible gap, nor it is that relevant to create an ugly clutter by putting everything above the fold - please know that they only have your best intentions (a higher conversion) at heart. :)