Space is a premium in most magazines, but filling up all available nooks and crannies on a page is rarely the best design solution. To give your design a little room to breathe and to keep a reader focused on what’s most important about a layout, the most effective choice is often wide-open white space.

“White space — space without graphics or text — is essential in all areas of design, from fashion and home magazines to scientific journals to Web design,” says Art Director Kerri Davis. “Some people see it as unused, or wasted, space. They don’t understand it’s actually a design choice that is just as important as picture placement or choosing the right font.”
An artful use of white or negative space (since it’s not always white) works because:
Important elements don’t get lost. Readers lose interest quickly when confused over a design, especially one that tries to cram everything on a page. White space helps a layout feel less crowded or overwhelming. “If you’ve got a headline or important quote that demands attention, creating empty space around those elements can give them the appropriate amount of focus,” Kerri says.
Senior Designer Lynne Boyer especially likes to use white space when she’s working with a powerful image. “Hopefully it helps the reader fully appreciate the image,” she says. And by concentrating the reader’s attention on a cool graphic, you have a better chance of getting him or her to take a little more time with the article itself.
The reader is drawn in. As readers flip through a magazine, instead of encountering a big red arrow that says “Look at me!,” their eyes can be driven to a particular place on a page with the use of white space. Without being too obvious, “white space can create a dramatic opening,” Lynne says. “Or it can create a place for the eyes to rest as you make your way through an article.”
Balance and flow are created. White space in a design gives a reader visual cues about what’s essential to view and where to start reading. “It also can be used to balance a layout’s components, such as images, sidebars and pull quotes, so that each page or spread has a logical visual flow,” Lynne says.
Unfortunately, there’s no formula to figure out when and how to use white space, but thinking like a reader will help, as will asking a colleague with fresh eyes to take a look and weigh in on the design. If your page feels crowded, or if you feel overwhelmed with all the information, try these tips:

  • When creating a magazine grid, think about creating a column that is used only for images or quotes, allowing the rest of the space to be empty.
  • Increase space between paragraphs or columns.
  • Create white-space borders or rules to differentiate stories.
  • Give images room to breathe with sufficient wraparound. Don’t run text right up next to a graphic.
  • Make your headline pop by adding negative space around it.
  • If an entire publication feels crammed, think about incorporating a more generous margin throughout the magazine.
  • Designers, ask an editor to cut back on copy. He or she may grouse about your request, but that back-and-forth debate is often the best thing that can happen to an article and a design.
  • Don’t go crazy with too much white space: Excessive leading and kerning that’s not tight enough look messy and detract from good design.

Check out more of Hammock’s tips in the design section of our Custom Media Craft blog.