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The modern web design world is screaming "white space" more than ever, and for good reason. There are countless articles detailing how and why white space should be used.

I specialize in heavy-use, efficient single page applications that are built for production-oriented users. In other words, the users are not consumer and have the time to actually learn to use the applications, and use them for blood.

As part of this, the applications require a tremendous amount of functionality.

I am in a constant struggle between design and usability on these systems, as they pose different sorts of problems.

For example, the Google Material Design spec looks and works brilliantly for consumer-end interfaces that don't require that much dedicated functionality. As soon as you try to neatly sqeeze in a ton of other functions, it doesn't pan out so well.

For example, try to re-design Ableton Live 9, or Autodesk 3DS Max while allowing for white space principles. It kind of falls short.

I have looked far and wide for design principles for more production-intensive web applications, but find surprisingly little material on this.

My search goes on for a happy-medium - an elegant but outstandingly efficient production-app standard.

Does anyone know of good references or advice they can point to on this subject?

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I think it's problematic to distinguish "consumer" from "professional" applications in talking about UX, because human beings don't have different cognitive and ergonomic requirements at home and at work. It's true that "professional" applications often have cluttered UIs, but not because it's better; usually it's because their captive audience doesn't have the power to demand good UX.

For example, I use Rhinoceros on a daily basis, and like 3DS Max, it's a mass of buttons by default. I simply turned off all the toolbars and use the command line for everything. It's actually easier to use that way, because once you have a hundred buttons onscreen you've lost the discoverability that is the reason for having a graphical interface in the first place.

When people advocate using more white space, another way of saying that is "don't crowd too many things onto the screen" (Tufte, for example, says exactly that). It's not a layout problem, it's an editing problem.

  • I can agree with you to a degree on this, however, I wouldn't say "their captive audience doesn't have the power to demand good UX". To me, these types of applications have some of the most utterly fine-tuned UIs in terms of productivity (not aesthetics), as the users are power-users, often developers themselves, with many apps built in-house. OCD-driven, any adjustment that could be made to shave off a repetitive second has probably been done. Think Pixar Renderman, things like that. – dthree Nov 29 '14 at 19:35
  • But yes, I think a key is just brilliance of design where you don't need to cram in so many damn buttons, etc., while still maintaining full productive functionality. – dthree Nov 29 '14 at 19:36

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