22 September 2013

Less is More: The Power of White Space

People can’t listen to your presentation and read loads of text at the same time. This is an unquestionable truth! So your job is to design visuals that can be understood within a few seconds. In her book, Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great PresentationsNancy Duartea world’s leading expert in the fieldsuggests that audiences should be able to understand your slides in about three seconds. They should be able to very quickly grasp the message of your slides and then come back to you and listen to what you have to say. Slides are there to complement your message, not to substitute it.

Research shows that people better understand slides (and multimedia messages in general) when these don’t contain too much text and information. When those elements are present, they become a distraction and you don’t want to distract your audience, do you?
One of the best ways to avoid distracting your audience is to use a lot of White Space in your visuals.

What is White Space?

White space is the area of the slide which is empty. White space doesn’t have to be white, it can be any colour as long as it is empty space. White space is also called negative pace.
The main benefit of using white space is that it improves visual clarity, which in turn helps direct your audience’s focus on what is really important.  
Are you not convinced? Look at the optical illusion below.

Do you see a vase or two faces? If you see two faces it means that for you the white area is acting as negative space while the black area is acting as positive space. If you see the vase the opposite is the case. This example tells you that it is the negative space that makes the positive elements of your visuals stand out. Negative space doesn’t have to be seen as something to be filled insomething that's wasted unless it is occupied with more elements. Rather, it augments the positive elements of your message.
Perhaps the biggest mistake inexperienced presenters make is that they fill in their slides with loads of text and information which don’t add value to their message. Remember, if everything is important, nothing is important. If everything stands out, nothing stands out. Still not convinced? Ok, then look at the Google’s homepage below and compare it to the homepage of its competitor Yahoo! Google is one of the brands which understands this point very well.

Why do you think most people use Google when surfing the internet? To me, the main reason is the way Google designed its homepage in the first place (this is not the only reason though). It is clear, uncluttered and goes straight to the point. In a sentence, it has a lot of white space.

Why does white space matter?

So far I have shown examples which apparently have nothing to do with Presentation Design. However, design is everywhere and we can apply many design lessons to the world of presentations. White space matters because it brings many benefits to our visuals, such as:
  • Improved legibility
  • Higher comprehension
  • Increased attention
  • Creates elegance and gives an idea of professionalism

The enemy of white space

The reason why most people include too much text in their slides is because they lack the confidence for being different. "Normal" slidesthe ones we are used toare all about conformity. People want to feel secure and designing slides like everybody else is a way of feeling safe. By putting loads of information in your slides you want to show your audience that you have done your homework. However, this approach is not effective at all! It takes courage to be different, I know. But there is no doubt that “different” visualsvisuals that are designed with the audience in mindcan make your presentation remarkable.

Now it’s up to you, do you want to be boring or remarkable?