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Give your designs room to breathe with white space

The power of white space in product design

If you overhear a design QA session between a product designer and an engineer, odds are you’ll hear the product designer say something like this:

“Can you add 8 pixels of padding here and also there? … Actually, let’s make it 16 pixels.”

So, why are product designers so picky about padding?

Padding, also known as white space, is the empty space between and around individual elements of a page layout; these elements could be pieces of copy, images, cards, buttons, icons, etc. When used correctly, white space brings visual clarity and balance to a layout.

Think of white space as a breath of fresh air. Just as humans need air to breathe, designs need white space to breathe. Yes, this may sound corny. But I stand by this.

An example of white space usage

Using Wayfair as an example, the product design team follows a strict padding rule to ensure consistency and easy maintenance across site. This rule is embedded into their design toolkit, a collection of user interface design elements that are the building blocks for all of the site designs. The rule states that the spacing between every design element should be a multiple of 8 pixels; this means that the spacing could be 8, 16, 24, 32, 40 pixels and so on. This rule brings intentionality to the use of white space and creates visual consistency across the site experience.

“Rule of 8” in action

How can white space improve the user experience?

It helps maintain focus

White space is a tool that helps guide the user experience. We use white space to create focus points for our users drawing their attention to certain elements. The greater the padding around a particular element on a page, the greater the emphasis on that element. In the example below, focus is clearly maintained on the call to action and the primary messaging.

Aaaah, drink in all that white space

Unfortunately, we do not always have the luxury of this kind of white space. This is a rarity, so enjoy it while it lasts. On a typical e-commerce page, a product designer is faced with the challenge of balancing multiple calls to action, secondary links, imagery, pieces of copy—the list goes on. The example below showcases our product details page (PDP), a page that demands a lot from our user. Strategically placed white space helps our user navigate the visual noise on this page and potentially increases conversion.

White space helps focus the user on each interaction area on the PDP

It improves visual organization

In addition to highlighting areas of focus, white space plays a huge role in the visual organization of a page. White space is essential to clarifying relationships and separating sections with different purposes; it is also the driving force behind the Gestalt Principle of Proximity, which states:

Objects or shapes that are close to one another appear to form groups.

Clearly defining different parts of a page increases our user’s confidence in the site experience; forcing our user to think through a confusing layout is something every product designer wants to avoid. The following example showcases Wayfair’s homepage, a page that could easily appear overwhelming if white space was not used properly.

White space clearly defines the different sections on Wayfair’s homepage

It increases readability

In addition to defining the organization of a page, white space can greatly improve the readability of a page. It’s important to be mindful about the spacing between lines of copy—and even letters—as thoughtful spacing will make it easier for the user to digest. More spacing is generally better, but too much could potentially make lines of copy feel disconnected. It’s all about finding the right balance.

What are common concerns around white space?

“White space is wasted space!”

This is a myth. White space is not wasted space. There is a tendency for some of our stakeholders to fill white space with more content when it is not always necessary. Everyone has heard the saying “less is more”. This applies to content on any given page, where less visual noise makes for a better user experience. On Wayfair’s checkout flow (seen below), the white space underneath the main call to action may be vast but it beautifully balances and supports the elements on this page.

Large areas of white space do NOT need to be filled with content

“White space pushes content below the fold and users will not see this content!”

Users will scroll and scroll some more. I promise you. There is this myth that users will not always scroll to see all the content on a page. Thus, some of our stakeholders request that the majority of a page’s content lives above the fold.

Users have evolved and become more comfortable with scrolling. There are definitely certain elements that are best suited above the fold, but it’s important not to limit the use of white space to accommodate for the fold.

Conclusion

Every product designer wants to design the best possible user experience; with this in mind, white space is a powerful tool that can help achieve this from a user interface perspective. It should be heavily integrated into the design process .

Think you’re using too much white space? There’s a good chance you’re not. If anything, you’re probably not using enough. When in doubt, add more white space…


This article was originally posted at:
https://medium.com/wayfair-design/more-padding-please-b95e19422acc

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Call to action (CTA)

A call to action is a marketing term that refers to a prompt that invokes a response leading to a sale. When referring to a call to action (CTA) in the digital design world we usually mean the interactive element that leads to the next step in the experience - something that needs to be clicked or tapped.

User testing

User testing refers to a technique used in the design process to evaluate a product, feature or prototype with real users. There are several reasons why you might want to undergo usability testing, the most common is that it allows the design team to identify friction in a user experience they are designing, so that it can be addressed before being built or deployed.

WYSIWYG

WYSIWYG (pronounced WIZ-ee-wig) is an acronym for "What You See Is What You Get". It helps identify an an interface that allows user input resulting in an output that is rendered in a similar way. For example; a word processor application interface might resemble a piece of paper,so when printed the user can see how the output will appear.

Content Management System

A content management system (CMS) is an tool that allows a website editor/administrator to manage the content that is displayed. Websites are made of HTML and CSS to create pages. Pages can be hard-coded but would require technical development skills to make changes. A CMS usually allows a person without coding knowledge to amend existing and add new content to a website using a WYSIWYG interface.

Responsive Web Design

Responsive web design refers to a web page that dynamically adapts its layout to fit the size and orientation of the device on which it is viewed. A responsive design allows for a more optimised user experience across desktop and laptop computers as well as smartphones and tablets of varying sizes.

User Stories

User stories allow the functionality of a product or service to be expressed as written descriptions of an experience as seen from the users perspective. The writing of user stories creates a list of design and development tasks to complete in order to create any required functionality.

User Interface

A user interface (UI) is a conduit between human and computer interaction - the space where a user will interact with a computer or machine to complete tasks. The purpose of a UI is to enable a user to effectively control a computer or machine they are interacting with, and for feedback to be received in order to communicate effective completion of tasks.

Personas

A persona in UX Design is the characterisation of a user who represents a segment of your target audience. On a project you might create any number of personas to be representative of a range of user needs and desires. The solutions you design must answer these needs in order to deliver value to your target audience.

Card sorting

A great, reliable, inexpensive method for discovering patterns in how users would expect to find content or functionality. Card sorting is used to test the taxonomy of data with a group of subjects, usually to help inform the creation of the information architecture, user flow, or menu structure on a project.

Brainstorming

A technique used to generate ideas around a specific topic. Often done in groups, but can be done individuals. The process usually involves writing down all ideas around a topic onto paper, a whiteboard or stickies often implying some kind of association.

Minimum Viable Product

An MVP is a product that has the minimum set of features to prove the most essential hypothesis for a product. Businesses building a new product can create a Minimum Viable Product to prove that an idea is viable and warrants further investment. A further benefit being that the next stage of development can be informed by feedback obtained from testing that MVP.

Sitemap

A sitemap is a diagrammatic representation of a hierarchical system. It usually depicts the parent-sibling relationship between pages in a website, showing how sub pages might be arranged underneath their parent groupings. This arrangement forms a map of the site.

User journey

A user journey represents a sequence of events or experiences a user might encounter while using a product or service. A user journey can be mapped or designed to show the steps and choices presented as interactions, and the resulting actions.

Prototype

A prototype is draft representation built to test ideas for layout, behaviour and flow in a system. Prototypes are an indispensable tool for resolving a large number of potential issues in a concept or business before too many resources are deployed to put a design into production.

Wireframes

A Wireframe is a visual schematic that conveys a basic level of communication, structure and behaviour during the design of a system. Wireframes are low-fidelity designs that bypass including a detailed user interface or visual design, conveying just enough to get across the core idea.

Usability

To say something is usable is a qualitative statement about how easy that thing is to use. Usability is an assessment of how learnable a system is and how easy a user finds it to use. The usability of a system or product is a key factor in determining whether the user experience is a good one.

Information Architecture

Information architecture is the design and organisation of content, pages and data into a structure that aids users understanding of a system. A more organised system enables users to more easily find the information they require and complete the intended tasks.

UI Design

User Interface Design is the discipline of designing software interfaces for devices, ideally with a focus on maximising efficiency, responsiveness and aesthetics to foster a good user experience.

UX Design

The practice of User Experience (UX) Design is the coming together of many specific design related disciplines to improve the usability, responsiveness, uptake and aesthetics of a product or service.

User Experience

A general term that covers all aspects of a user's participation while engaging with something that has been designed. Usually when talking about User Experience in the digital design field it refers to the interactions, reactions, emotions and perceptions while using an app, service, website or product.

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