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I'm doing a presentation on User Experience to my fellow colleagues (IT consultants) and have a section on white spaces / white spacing. Seems like searching for relevant content is not possible when searching for white spaces.

I know it’s important to not have a cluttered site, leaving the spaces to enable users to figure out similarities, proximities and grouping of elements – but I’m unable to find anything on white spaces as a theory. Is there a theory on white spaces alone, or is it a consequence of other psychological aspects?

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A big part of it is grouping (proximity) and reification in Gestalt Psychology stuff: – Ben Brocka Aug 27 '12 at 21:06
@BenBrocka Thanx, Ben! I'll read it through and see what I can make out of it. (How could I forget Wikipedia?) – Benny Skogberg Aug 27 '12 at 21:08
See also Why do we prefer visually aligned objects. I'd love to answer but it's a lot of work for right now – Ben Brocka Aug 27 '12 at 21:10
@BenBrocka Thanx again! I know this question is on the border between COGSCI and UX, but I thought it where better placed here since it's more of a knowledge on visual design than a cognitive science question. – Benny Skogberg Aug 27 '12 at 21:15
Yeah, definitely more of a design issue as asked – Ben Brocka Aug 27 '12 at 23:27
up vote 5 down vote accepted

I don't know of any particular finished theory, but I can say with a certain certainty that the use of white space has strong psychological (and also physiological) bondings.

First of all, white space improves legibility (here's an interesting study about it. They measured comprehension and speed using text with different white space to create a chart of "white space preference"). According to a research cited here (Lin, D. Y. M. 2004. "Evaluating older adults"), whitespace can increase comprehension by almost 20%.

It also, as you mentioned, increases attention to a particular object creating separation and flow between elements. And in general, humans just don't respond well to clutter, so an open space will have connotations with emotional and physical comfort. Whitespace usually conveys an image of sophistication and elegance (think of mac). I guess in a way, you are saying your brand can afford to sacrifice space.

You can find a long list of related articles in this great review. And there's also people who don't agree with the spreading tendency of white space and make a very interesting point, such as this guy.

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Signal/noise detection theory: Too much noise on a page = not being able to detect what the signal is/the call to action (aka "noisy" pages). A minimalist approach to design keeps the design clean. Unless the user needs something, it is considered noise/clutter, which is a result of poor architecture/navigation from a contextual perspective.

Also consider minimalism's use of negative space, which changes the focus but still utilizes signal/noise detection theory. Hope those key words help and good luck on your presentation!

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