White space and minimalist design

by Yeevon Ooi on 8 September 2010

It’s very common nowadays to hear people from all sorts of backgrounds commenting on the design of websites. A few of the popular comments participants tend to make during usability testing sessions which often send mixed messages to clients include “I like a lot of white space” or “I prefer a minimalist design”.

From a user experience point of view, these comments by no means indicate that if you apply the above to your website, site visitors are going to love your website to pieces. Having a lot of white space doesn’t mean being able to navigate around the website easily.

However, it is possible that a well-designed website with a lot of white space:

  • Provides a clear call to action and focus as to what the site visitors can do on that page
  • Reduces visual clutter so that site visitors know where to look at
  • Reduces the cognitive load of site visitors by not bombarding them with information from all directions

Having minimalist design doesn’t ensure good usability of a website. However, it is possible that a minimally design website:

  • Strips information down to the most essential and basic level, making it easier for site visitors to digest website content
  • Also possesses aesthetically pleasing features, hence influencing people’s emotional or affective experiences on the website (Note that having an attractive website does not increase its usability, and this topic alone deserves a separate discussion so watch this space)

As such, the next time someone yells “I love white space” or goes on and on about how they worship minimalist design, don’t start designing a website with those features thinking it’s going to work for sure.

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