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I am a big proponent of clean designs and effective utilization of white space but it seems every client, developer, seemingly everyone, tries to fill all the available space with "something".

I can usually explain the importance of white space in terms everyone can understand but can someone point me to some data, use cases or even a good metaphor that I can use to back me up?

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Show them this: gordonwaynewatts.com and show them www.twitter.com. The need for whitespace is quite apparent =p –  Ben Brocka Sep 9 '11 at 1:22
Google have defended their white space vigorously. They have not done badly with it. –  Schroedingers Cat Sep 9 '11 at 8:05
Here's basically the same question over on the Graphic Design SE: graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/q/3084 –  Steve S Sep 9 '11 at 16:53

3 Answers 3

There are some articles about the importance and improvement of white space that are backed by eye tracking evidence.

This article has a good case study that shows people remember 34% more content with the help of white-space reformating

Rewrite + reformat = remember
What if you could engage users in a story for about half the time, yet have them remember about 34 percent more of the content? That’s exactly what one test showed. Spending less than two hours rewriting and reformatting a story about New York City restaurants really paid off according to this study.

Another study on the importance of white-space in text readability and even on comprehension

Results from this study showed that the manipulation of the Margin white space affected both reading speed and comprehension; participants read the Margin text slower, but comprehended more than the No Margin text. In general, the results favored the use of Margins (...)

A good metaphor for white-space is sound and silence.

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Sweet, thanks so much! –  Pixelist Sep 9 '11 at 14:00
I really love that metaphor. –  Mark Bubel Apr 29 at 14:22

I always think of the Gestalt principles when laying out content - whitespace helps apply these principles by emphasising association, grouping, separation, alignment, similarity and symmetry.

Without the whitespace you cannot apply these principles because the whole becomes a homogenous chunk instead. Only with the whitespace can you end up being able to distinguish figure and ground; relate in your own mind what the page is made up of and decide what is important (by scanning the content first) and what the relationships are between regions of content.

Web Design Tuts has a great page with example on the importance of whitespace. The links work if some of the images don't. It talks about white space in design including text and images.

-- update --

From a higher level perspective, it's very easy to add information to a website. It's much harder to add the gaps.

Adding gaps doesn't necessarily mean literally inserting a gap between one part of the content and another. It's about considering whether each part of the content is relevant in the view, and removing those elements which are not necessary.

But every part of the content will have been provided by someone who feels that it is important - or at least no less important than someone else's bit of content which is vying for position on a home page for example.

Thus we get into the interests and impacts of business rules and business analysts, content strategists, domain experts, copywriters and the like.

So you can see how it starts to get difficult to decide what not to include on any given page. The more elements there are, the more the user has to digest and think about - and the more decisions the user has to make. If you make that top level information easy to digest, the easier the user will find it to navigate in the right direction.

Deciding what not to include is what takes the time and effort.

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Totally with you. I recently bought the book, "Universal Principles of Design", which covers Gestalt and many others. Great book. Thanks for the comment! –  Pixelist Sep 9 '11 at 14:01

Explain white-space in terms of a business requirement. A client can see white-space as empty-space - they're not getting the best value for money if there's empty 'canvas' all over the place.

The most important turn of phrase I've used is "A clean website has an obvious focus and this can only be achieved by using white-space". The most important metaphor you can use is, "White-space is breathing space".

Whenever I need to explain the importance of white-space I refresh my vocabulary with this A List Apart Article: http://www.alistapart.com/articles/whitespace and go on my way. I also transcribe Paul Boag's quote, "White-space improves legibility, gives a sense of simplicity and communicates a feeling of openness and style."

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Exactly right, thanks! –  Pixelist Sep 9 '11 at 14:02

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