In an age of noise and information onslaught from the moment we wake up, silence and negative space could be the unlikely luxury we all need for a positive mindset.
How can we create both physical and mental space to help us stay focused on our goals and well-being? Before we begin with these simple organisation techniques, let’s explore what white space is exactly.
What is White Space?
White space (can be in any other color as well), also known as negative space, is the intentional empty areas between elements used in design, UX, as well as architecture.
Most of us think of empty space as wasted space, itching to be filled with more visual elements and information. However, the contrary is true.
White space is a great tool in UX design to help balance design elements and better organise content to improve the visual communication experience for the audience. This vacuum of content created by white space draws our attention to the subject in focus. It is like an invisible spotlight that fixates your gaze on what’s truly important.
“White space is like an invisible spotlight.”
As such, white space not only helps with readability, usability, and feedback, it also gives users mental breathing room, making them more comfortable viewing and exploring the content.
Just look at the Google search page vs. Yahoo search page below. Can you tell which one favours white space more?
The value of white space goes beyond UX design: is also important for our mental state and capacity.
Introducing more space into our life – instead of overloading it with content and information – provides clarity. This can be achieved through the physical organisation of your environment, which then translates into a more spacious mental state.
Alternatively, you can think of mental white space as real estate. Space is associated with value in terms of real estate purchases – the bigger the living space, the more you must pay. The same goes for mental space, but instead of paying this space with currency, you are sacrificing your focus and well-being.
“Clutter is the enemy of clarity”-Julia Cameron
To highlight the benefits of white space, let’s explore it in terms of good UX design and translate that into everyday applications.
1. Improved Comprehension
White space should make consuming content and reading more accessible and predicable for the reader. Space between text is important in both improving the legibility (how you see the letters and words) and readability (how you can skim the content quickly).
We all love a well-spaced out article with properly sized headings, subheadings, and paragraphs without even noticing it. You breeze through the content feeling light and nourished with key information.
The same principle is true in everyday tasks. The ‘content’ you’re consuming here are your daily, monthly, or yearly goals.
If your space is well organised and properly spaced out, your mind reads your surroundings and refocuses itself on your set goal. For example, a well-organised and spaced out desk at home can be a great start – you’ll be productive the moment you sit down, as your mind does not wander looking for chargers or tempted to do something else.
It will also help if you keep designated areas with intended purpose. For instance, try not to place a game/Switch on your work desk – out of sight, out of mind.
2. Clarifying Relationships
The Law of Proximity in UX design states that objects that are near or proximate to each other tend to be grouped together. White space gives users a visual cue by organising information faster and more efficiently, allowing them to understand the layout more easily.
In simpler terms, information or content will be clearly understood when they are placed closer to the fields they relate to. For example, a well-organised box of tools can be scanned and used more efficiently than just putting all the tools in an unorganised box. This will help reduce the mental load and aid in finishing the task fast.
This principle can be applied to many other areas as well. Simply group items, rooms, or information by their intended purpose to breeze through them and stay focused.
3. Attracting Attention
We’re all too familiar with websites that blinds us with content – they put us off instantly and make us not want to continue reading. By removing extra or unimportant elements, the audience can focus where it actually matters.
White space around an object focuses eyeballs. The more white space around an object, the more likely the user will be drawn to it. This is the relationship between distance and attention.
“White space around an object focuses eyeballs.“
Furthermore, when white space is properly used in UX design, it can guide the user’s eye through a hierarchy of elements – from most important to least.
For example, landing pages are designed to offer the key pieces of information first, with the proposed value in huge bolded text, followed by an explanatory text in finer/smaller print. This way, your mind skims the primary catchphrase first and before you know it, you’ve signed up for their newsletter offering freebies in a big bolded text.
The same can be applied to manage focus in your everyday life. A tip I use is to not only classify items, rooms, and information by function, but to go further and group them according to primary and secondary importance.
For example, I keep all my essential cards (ID, driving license, credit card) in my apple leather slim wallet and stow away the rest (cards of secondary importance, such as my IKEA family card) in the pouch that the wallet came in. When determining if it’s an item of primary or secondary importance, I ask myself, “is this a must-have or good-to-have?” If I’m unsure, I put it in the secondary box.
Generally, the primary importance area should contain fewer items to help you stay hyper-focused. This way you’re always reminded of the task at hand (primary) while potential distractions or non-essentials (secondary) take a backseat.
4. Creating the Luxury Feel
The idea here is the same as the real estate example. Space is luxury and authority, which is why important cultural, governmental, and residential areas are always spacious, not cramped. In UX design, white space can be used for aesthetic reasons to create a sense of elegance and luxury, and this leads to perceived importance as well.
“Space is luxury and authority.”
Do the same to your physical environment. Group elements together by intended purpose then further divide them into primary and secondary importance, then stow away the elements of secondary importance (if you can). You’ll find that you’ve created more space for yourself and your mind.
The ability to stay focused by cutting through the modern jungle of noise and content is a highly underrated skill. By creating more space physically and mentally in our daily lives, we will find the freedom to craft that empty space to focus on what’s truly important to us.
Remember, space is luxury and passion is gold.