When Being Negative is OK: Making a Case for White Space


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We’re bombarded with thousands of messages every day, from billboards to digital ads, direct mail to email. Competition for attention is keen. That means you need to engage a potential customer and deliver your message about your products and services as quickly, simply and efficiently as possible. Anything you can do to make it easier to consume your marketing messages can pay off. And sometimes that can mean the absence of stimuli.

Enter white space. Also called negative space, this is the area in your marketing communications without words or images. It may be the border on newsletters, or any natural or intentional break in the copy (like between paragraphs) or around images in a brochure. With white space, the reader’s eyes avoid straining to find to the message. Eyes are easily led from one thought to the next – and have time to rest – while the brain processes what’s been seen.

When people read a marketing message, they like it or not, and respond accordingly. To understand why you react the way you do, take a look at a recent direct mail piece or brochure you strongly liked or disliked. Is it full of words and graphics all running together? Did you understand the message instantly? Or is the graphic design and content “all over the place” and confusing? Good or bad, you were probably responding, in part, to the white space or lack of it.

The best marketing communications have a balanced ratio of white space to copy and images. The least effective are those that have very little white space, making it difficult to find the message. Here are three quick tips to guide you toward the sensible use of white space in your print and digital communications:

1. Resist the urge to fill. In almost all instances, less is more. A page top-to-bottom with type can “read” as one big unit with no cues to where the reader should begin. Not sure of the tipping point? Consider tapping a professional graphic designer to help you strike the right balance among the elements in your print or e-newsletter, for example.

2. Pay attention to hierarchy. Skimmers and scanners reading brochures, for instance, are taking in the headlines and deciding whether to read on or go. The mission of your headline is singular but challenging: move the reader to the next line. The role of the next line? Get them to the next. And so on.

3. Size it right. Pay attention to the natural hierarchy of your information. The most important nugget or provocative statement is your headline, and the type is bigger because of it. Subheads are downsized from the headline but are bigger than the body copy. Subheads let the reader or viewer know that this information is important, too, and can preview or summarize the content that follows. You can also add an attention-getting callout for your offer or call-to-action in your direct mail, like FREE GIFT FOR EARLY BIRDS. Remember you want to enhance comprehension, not distract or confuse.

When you’ve invested planning, time and money into your marketing communications, take the steps to ensure you will drive the best results. Graphic design is just one of our specialties for print communications, like newsletters, brochures and direct mail . . . and digital channels, too. Let us know when you need support from creative and strategic thinkers to reach your goals.

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