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White Space in Web Design

Excerpt from Brian Miller's book Above the Fold:

Creating a design system almost always starts with the clear organization of space. Deliberately constructed white space, not to be confused with unconstructed or empty space, is often overlooked as an element of Web design. In fact, a common mistake among inexperienced designers is to focus too heavily on the "objects" in a design (type, images, photos, lines, and planes), and space is simply what's left over when they're finished. Space is essential for creating relationships that form systems that lead to hierarchy.

The interplay between the objects of a design and the background is called the figure-ground relationship. White space, also called negative space, is a reference to the "ground" in figure-ground." The goal of a designer is to achieve balance between figure and ground, where one doesn't completely dominate the other. Instead, they work together to unify the design.

Types of White Space

Every element on a webpage can be thought of as a box. margin is the area surrounding a box, separating it from other webpage elements. padding is the area surrounding the contents in a box, between an image or text and the boxes border (the border may or may not be visible). In traditional print, the first line of a paragraph is indented. In webpage text, and in modern print text, the first line is not indented, paragraph spacing is used instead.

Different types of white space

Colums can be equal widths, or different widths. Columns can be fixed-width, or variable-width - adjusting to the size of the user's browser window. Often one column is variable-width, while the other columns are fixed-width.

Brian Miller provides much more guidance on the principle of white space, and many screen-shot examples of professional Web sites and how they use white space. I don't see how anyone can be a true professional designer if they haven't read Brian's book.

Graphic designer Ted A. Dobbs says," Above the Fold provides everything that you need to build a strong foundation for a successful web site. The book is broken into three sections that talk specifically about design, planning and marketing issues associated with web site design. From reviewing the basic principles of design from a web perspective to prototyping and search engine optimization, author Brian Miller does an excellent job of explaining the specifics of the medium without getting bogged down in markup languages. As a predominantly print-based graphic designer, Above the Fold gave me the knowledge and tools to design just as successfully and comfortably for the web."

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