You’ve probably heard the term ‘white space’ before, which is also often referred to as negative space and is used widely in digital and print design. It is the portion of a canvas left unmarked: margins, gutters, and space between columns, lines of type, graphics, figures, or objects drawn or depicted. It’s an important element of design, which plays with the visual balance of positive and negative spaces in order to achieve a particular aesthetic. Most importantly though, it is used to increase readability, breathability, and structural rhythm.
A classic offence that plagues many designers and non-designers alike is the overabundance of elements in a design. While making use of all available space might reduce canvas size and scroll distance, it does more harm than good when it comes to a viewer’s understanding of information. Overcrowding will render a design impenetrable. The white space allows users to consider one thing at a time. That creates calm and that creates good user-experience.
With that said, I like to think of white space beyond digital and print. It applies to our physical environment too. In fact, it applies to a ton of things in life—from how we speak, write, draw, meditate, or exercise. A better term for this might be what the Japanese call ‘ma’. It’s a concept that can be described as an emptiness of space, a gap, or even silence. In its architectural context, ‘ma’ refers to the dimension of space between the structural posts of an interior. The layout is intentionally designed to encompass empty space. A perfect example of this would be a traditional Japanese tea room. No ornamentation, pure minimalism—creating a sensory space.
If we think about an environment in which we can control—like our homes—we can use ‘ma’ to help us identify what we value and what we don’t. What we need to use, enjoy to use and look at, and what we don’t.
If ever there was a good time to consider our use of white space in our lives, it’s probably now.