The Positives Of Negative Space

If you've ever thought: “this page looks kind of empty”

When I’m presenting wireframes to clients, a common piece of feedback is “this page looks kind of empty”. This is especially common on form pages; for example we include a tool in many employee directories that allows users to fill out a form and send an email to an employee. This page is sparse; it only has navigation and a form. Often clients will start trying to come up with ways to fill the empty space:

  • “Can we add an image here for some eye candy?”
  • “What if we make the fields wider to fill more of the page?”
  • “Should we add a block of text to explain what the employee should be contacted about?”

The issue is, they are trying to solve a problem that isn’t actually a problem, in fact, the empty space is ideal. In design, we refer to the absence of content or elements as “white space” or “Negative space”. Negative space helps the page appear clean, modern, and functional while also keeping users focused on the task at hand, in this case, filling out a form. Knowing this, we can go back to the list of common suggestions to “fix” this issue and see why they do not add value for the user.

  • Eye candy: At this point the user has chosen to take action, they have reached this page because they want to contact an employee. They do not need to be sold by decorative imagery, superfluous images are just a distraction from the task they are trying to complete. 
  • Fill space with wider fields: I could write a very long blog post about form design that only other UX people would find interesting. I’ll save you from the boredom and leave it at this: extra-wide form fields can negatively impact both the usability and aesthetics of the page.
  • Add extra text: content that has been added for the sake of filling space is called “fluffy text” and it adds no value for anyone. Users online are notorious skimmers, and this is especially true for form instructions. Do you really want to waste your time writing something that no one will read?

I’ve focused on form pages in this post, but this advice applies anywhere from your homepage to a product detail page. Focus on developing the content you need and don’t worry about filling every pixel on the screen. An elegant, usable design will have plenty of white space.

Elevate your design

About the Author

Dan Burke headshot
Dan Burke
UX Strategist

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