I have read many existing questions covering the use of white space, but most are comparing white space with 'useless' frills, or simply cramming items in.

My question is in reference to google docs and comments. As a google doc is resized the comments move in what I would consider a sensible manner. If the window is widened the comments stop getting bigger after a certain point, and whitespace is added down the side (as highlighted below).

Is this whitespace the best use?

To me, I would rather see the comments continue to expand horizontally so you maximise the comment information displayed on screen. Going off my usual assumption of 'google knows best' I suppose they have kept this space to balance against the space on the other side of the document. My personal opinion would be to utilise it with the comments.

I am implementing a similar feature and am conflicted on what to do. Can anyone with any level of design experience suggest any further insight? Is it better to maximise the content, or balance the white space?

1 Answer 1


Obviously we are just making assumptions about the design decisions that are being made, but I have a couple of comments/observations that might help you come to a decision for your own application.

Firstly, there is probably an aesthetic element about keeping the same amount of space on either side of the application (if you want to count the comments as part of the document view), but that would be a user experience rather than practical element that you have to weigh up in your own project.

Secondly, there is probably a user behaviour element about not stretching the comment blocks because if you keep increasing the width (when the viewport increases) then there is a chance that the comments become longer since people want to fill the space with text. A shorter width would help users develop the habit of making the comments succinct (like they should be).

Thirdly, Google knows best when it comes to their own applications and users, so without understanding the constraints that they are working with (and remembering that their audience/customer base is very diverse), so you shouldn't apply the 'Google knows best' rule of thumb by default when making decisions.

Lastly, white space are probably the most effect visual design element for decreasing the textual density of the content on the screen, so like everything else on the page, when used in moderation it tends to be at its most effective.

  • Thank you - this is very useful. I think the biggest distinguishing factor between my app and google docs is comments are much more a key element in my application, and much more complex/detailed than those likely to appear in google docs. I think this will lead me to extend them to utilise the space.
    – SpoonerNZ
    May 13, 2015 at 5:31
  • Does this mean that the amount of comment versus document text is also different? And I am assuming that you will probably also do some more complex categorization or actions with the comment as well? Just trying to give you more things to think about with the design concepts and ideas.
    – Michael Lai
    May 13, 2015 at 5:38
  • Thanks Michael, yes a lot of thought around other elements of comments has already been done - this is our 6th major release, so we're not starting from scratch. We're now tackling the resizing / mobile friendliness specifically which comes with its own challenges.
    – SpoonerNZ
    May 13, 2015 at 5:44
  • Great answer, and just to add to this: users don't want to move their head to read text. If the comments kept expanding then you could get into a position where they become very wide and hard to actually read. This is at least my own reason for keeping text blocks fairly narrow (no more than 1000px usually).
    – CodyEngel
    May 13, 2015 at 20:55

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