Design - Usability - UX Design

The Role of Negative Space in Web Design

When it comes to web design, there are many concepts that deserve our attention, such as user experience, design elements, responsiveness, color selection, typography, and so on. One such concept associated with web design, and sadly often overlooked, is that of negative space. If you are someone who has received formal training in a design school, chances are high that you studied entire chapters on the role and relevance of negative space in design. However, if just like me and most of us, you are a self-trained warrior, it becomes all the more crucial to properly comprehend negative space in web design.

In this article, I shall be talking about the use and purpose of negative space in design, and more importantly, the various benefits associated with the judicious employment of negative space in your design projects. 

The Role of Negative Space in Web Design

Defining Negative Space

In simple terms, any type of design, be it web or print, has two types or forms of space: positive and negative. In web design, positive space deals with all the active elements on your page, such as fonts, buttons, images, videos, and other design elements. On the other hand, negative space in web design (often referred to as whitespace), deals with the empty space on the page. In other words, negative space is the non-positive space area on the page that works around the content and helps to separate design elements on the page.


As such, negative space, if used properly, can be helpful in defining the ways in which a user interacts with the positive space. So before going any further, it makes sense to discuss the benefits of properly employed negative space in web design.

The Importance of Negative Space

As already mentioned, negative space is important to enhance the usability and user experience of your web design projects. As such, usability can broadly be summed up in two points that are given below:

  1. Users should be able to easily locate the information that they are searching for.
  2. Thereafter, users should have an easy time reading or going through that very information.

Thus, negative space not only ensures that your website is clutterless and user-friendly, it also helps your visitors to easily navigate through the website and discover relevant content, without distractions or annoyances of any sort.

Furthermore, this brings us to another very important point: negative space, as against common misconception, is not a waste of screen space, nor is it ‘idle space’. In fact, negative space is a design element in its own right, serving the ever-important purpose of helping users navigate through and browse the website in an effective manner.


All said and done, the primary purpose of negative space in web design is to give the users some ‘room to breath’. By carefully and cleverly juxtaposing negative and positive space in web design, we can ensure that the visitors are not overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content that is presented to them, and at the same time, they are not underwhelmed by the lack of design elements or content.

Now that we have discussed the role and importance of negative space in web design, let us take a moment to discuss the two types of negative space:

1. Macro Negative Space

Macro negative space is the space between the large and core elements of design, such as your header and sidebar, or footer, and so on.

For example, since the header is the first thing that a visitor sees, many designers have a tendency to clutter it with everything that can possibly be made to fit in, thereby leading to a chaotic header that is of little use. By virtue of macro negative space, a better decision will be to use only the minimal key elements in your header, thereby drawing the user’s attention towards other areas of your website.


The same logic applies to footer and sidebars as well. Having multiple widget areas is a good idea, but you must ensure that you have left adequate ‘breathing-room’ between those widget areas, so that your sidebars and footer do not end up suffocating your users.

Thus, macro negative space implies that adequate spacing should be provided between and across block elements. As a result, your sidebars should not feel cluttered, and the Call to Action buttons should be supplied with plentiful space so that they stand out from the rest of the page elements, and so on.

2. Micro Negative Space

Micro negative space deals with the negative space between smaller elements of the design, such as the spacing in typography (between paragraphs, individual lines of type as well as lettering and words).

While micro negative space surely deals with smaller elements, it is by no means any less important than macro negative space. To begin with, if you fail to maintain a good degree of whitespace within and between blocks of text, your visitors and users will have a hard time reading the content on your website, thereby sending usability to the graveyard.


When it comes to micro negative space, the first and most important consideration is the balancing of aesthetics. There exists no clear-cut mechanism that can specify the ideal amount of spacing that should be employed when dealing with text blocks. On the contrary, micro negative space between/across blocks of texts and lettering varies on the basis of the web design itself. The spacing between letters, words and paragraphs as well as the line heights should neither be overdone nor underdone. Similarly, we also need to be careful when working with margins and padding, because too little or too much micro negative space will only end up doing more harm than good.

With that, we come to the end of this article. Knowing about negative space in design helps us avoid the ‘cram-everything-here’ attitude and makes our design projects even better and more user friendly. Of course, the proper ratio of positive and negative space varies from one design project to another, and lastly, the needs and directives of the clients too should be respected.

That said, what are your thoughts regarding the role of negative space (or the commonly used term ‘whitespace’) in web design? Share them with us using the comments below!

Image Credits: Maciej Gowin | Seayard | Orlando Aquije | desiree_slone

About the author

Writer; coffee-lover; best-selling author; editor of The Globe Monitor; blogs at Code Carbon. Learn more about my works, follow me on Facebook or Google+.

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