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At first everybody agrees about the simplification need and the "less is more" theory. But when it comes to design, they are uncomfortable to see a minimalist page and want it to be filled with everything.

I would like to understand why and how to reassure them.

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I'd be interested in seeing an example of what you've shown the clients. –  Chris Lively Jun 13 at 15:29
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Non-scientific input from a user of desktop applications that are trying to look like mobile apps: Splitting something across multiple screens/pages just to create excessive whitespace or make room for really big fonts/fonts isn't making my life better. –  poke Jun 13 at 17:33
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It really depends on the kind of empty space you are talking about. Less is more, but when less is taking up more space than necessary, then that is bad. Wasting space is different than keeping the UI simple. –  AaronLS Jun 13 at 22:19
    
As an example of empty space = wasting space, I'd take SE's new UI. –  Franck Dernoncourt Jun 16 at 0:41
    
@Chris There is no precise example but i have observed this behavior in many projects. One good example would be the Google page. Try to propose a similar minimalistic design, I am sure that clients won't accept it easily. As a user they love it but as a sponsor, they have the feeling that something is missing –  Renaud Jun 20 at 7:34

7 Answers 7

up vote 36 down vote accepted

While for the end-user, the "less-is-more" theory tends to be a huge win, you've got to get into the client's shoes to get where this opposition comes from.

The short answer is: they want to 'get what they're paying for.'

I usually find myself in the sometimes awkward space mediating between board members, designers and the rest of the development team (being a developer myself.)

One thing I notice fairly consistently, especially from complaining devs -no matter how many outlines, specs, project plans, etc… have been seen and agreed on already- business folks often won't support features until they have a design element attached to them.

This is a different kind of problem for the dev team, some important features have no visual, but I think it underlines some important aspects of the common setup.

Clients:

  • Want to assign tasks and see visual indicators of progress
  • Usually aren't educated in UX Design
  • Usually aren't educated in requirements specs
  • Often feel their 'gut reaction' at first glance is close to what an end-user feels.
  • See blank space in a similar way to how they see weeks of programming without visual change. In short, it can seem like nothing is getting done.
  • Don't fully realize the detail, planning and process as deeply.

Now of course, not all clients are representative of these points; but they're somewhat fair from the usual point-of-view of management. Its a real treat to work with folks who have the experience to let work get done =]

To attempt at offering some solutions:

  • Too often, though it may not be admitted, a well considered and placed HD backdrop fixes everything.
  • Demonstrate the flow of the experience over multiple situations. Demonstration is key to clients catching on that "there's really something to this"
  • Try to educate the client with a strong overview of the rationale being used.
  • Clearly point out conflicts that are being avoided and users you aren't driving away.
  • If you're working public web or app design, create more screens, pages or sliding content to maintain a minimal feel but increase project content visibility.
  • Do some usability testing with outside parties
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HD backdrop? High Definition? –  Aaron Hall Jun 13 at 16:44
    
Yes, high definition; as in the sort you will commonly see on parallax-style landing pages and console game menus. Not to suggest they're always best, but they tend to make clients happy where applicable. –  Garet Claborn Jun 14 at 4:54
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add a texture, win ! –  Toni Leigh Jun 15 at 15:32
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oh good point, @ColinSharpe. then you need the extra space so the user can actually see the beauty of it all ;D –  Garet Claborn Jun 15 at 18:13

Probably, the main reason why clients are afraid of empty space is because they feel it exists because there was nothing to put in it!

You can explain the following reasons why empty space is important:

  • Allows easier readability of the content
  • Prioritizes information and can bring actions into focus
  • Conveys a sense of elegance and sophistication and creates balance
  • More objects competing for attention means greater risk for distraction and confusion

You can even try to create your design in two ways: once with lots of white space and once with very little. Use the exact same elements in both designs, just change the spacing between them, and show it to the client.

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I'm sure you already know yourself why whitespace is good on the design side for making things feel uncluttered, but this information doesn't tend to help non-designer-folks want to get on-board with the lack of stuff.

Talking in terms of priorities and KPIs.

I've experienced much the same, and what I've found is that when I talked about things in terms of priorities for content and user's expectations, the room calms. It starts with user types - primary audience is looking for X, Y and Z. When less stuff is near X Y and Z, it's so much easier to locate and access X, Y and Z. Well when they can locate and use X, Y, and Z, it hits the bottom line or the KPI or whatever measurement which spells "success".

... and then for the rest, those specialty groups I like to call cherry pickers.

So there's that part - then there's the "let's talk about user's and cherry-picking!" portion to this, because the other content they want in the white space is often going to be unseen because it's not where the cherry-pickers are going to expect to find that content. These are those edge-case groups which are super important, but aren't in higher concentration or may be more high-tech type of users.

In your next meeting, I bet they'll start asking you about "the fold"...

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Just to add to your KPI point, Hick's Law is an effective argument in this case. It's a well-understood psychological phenomenon, with decades of study, and it provides a mathematical formula that describes its effects, for particularly stubborn stakeholders. Plus, it being called a "Law" carries a psychological weight that makes it easier for others to accept it without too much hassle. –  Travis Jun 13 at 20:46
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Great points, especially brings into notice the importance of directing the user's attention to where they'll get the most benefit. Also that idea of cherry-pickers ignoring particular patterns of clutter ... being one myself, I have noticed it often but I never had a clear way to mentally reference it. –  Garet Claborn Jun 14 at 5:03

Empty ("negative") space can be useful in design, to unclutter a layout, draw attention to important elements, etc., as well as simply not overwhelming the viewer with information overload. Think of 19th century museums with hundreds of paintings in a room, literally cheek-by-jowl covering the walls from near the floor to nearly the [high] ceiling. Contrast that with a 20th century museum, where each work is given plenty of wall space. It may be viewed and absorbed without the eye being distracted by nearby clutter.

On a web page, you have to be careful with too much empty space. Browser real estate is precious, and you want to be careful about what important information is offscreen at any moment. If the user has to explicitly scroll around to see the missing parts, it's a legitimate client concern that users (customers) may overlook something that's not in the initial screen view. A screen comes up with nothing but a logo (no controls). Oh, I'm supposed to scroll down several pages to see what the site wants me to see? While giving notice that there is more content on this page, at the same time, you don't want to clutter it up with everything including the kitchen sink. It's a matter of balance.

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They are afraid because they want to sell something on their homepage and offering more leads to more sales, right?

Show them a very bad example of a homepage and how a user browses on it and always point out "and here half of the users are lost" and "here another third of those who made it that far", and so on.

Then show them a well-structured site where you can find things in 2-3 Klicks and where you will come back again because it was so easy. That's how google did it before they started adding more and more features.

Maybe even setup your page in two designs and then put some test users on it.

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Power users represent about 10% of the user base. These users understand all the features and benefits of a system, and can handle more information on the screen. They are what UX designers would call the exception.

The minimalist design approach is about designing for the majority. The majority of users need assistance receiving information, and this assistance comes in the form of empty space. The term less is more should be stated as just the important bits.

So why do clients protest empty space?

Because they are power users. They understand all the features and benefits of the system. They represent the minority of users. They bring a bias perspective to reviewing UX designs that they know what the user is thinking.

A good client can understand that he/she does not know all about what the user needs. These clients can accept a UX design that plays it safe by assuming the user needs assistance.

There is nothing worse then a client that says "We don't need X because the user knows Y". These clients assume they can predict what the client is thinking. Clients like this often use the word "they" constantly. Since the client obviously know everything about the user.

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My answer addresses white(empty) space in web-design.

The main reason is that clients want to use the space on their website as efficiently as possible either to feature paramount content or get better placement for advertisements.

Mainly as a designer you tend to see the layout from an aesthetic and optimisation perspective, A client will see it more from a marketing/business perspective and since they don't know much about the role of white space in design they think it's useless.

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