Mysterious design secret no. 1: your brain likes margins

Posted by on Nov 19, 2015 in Mysterious design secrets | One Comment

A simple action results in big benefits to the reader

One of the biggest design mistakes I can think of—and one that I see all too frequently—is being stingy on margins or “white space” online or in print. I’ve cringed at crowded Word documents, cluttered PowerPoint presentations and crammed home pages. Cringing is not the reaction you want when people are looking at your important information.

But why, you may ask, is white space so important?

The brain likes white space. And the brain’s attention is something that has to be earned.

What does that mean to you, whether you’re a designer or not? It means that effective margins are vital to getting your message across. The white space around your text or images—whatever you’re trying to get people to focus on—provides a clear pathway between the eye and what’s important for comprehension.

Here are two examples

Example of good and bad margins

On the left: You’ll notice that the text is large and too close to the border. Your brain is conflicted momentarily by the tension between those two elements. Most people won’t even be aware that this is happening—especially while reading on a screen. But the damage will have already been done. Within 1 or 2 seconds, if you haven’t met their needs, readers will have skipped to something new.

On the right: You may be relieved to note (albeit unconsciously) that ample white space has been provided. Even though the text is smaller, it is more legible, as well as more accessible to our overtaxed brains. It is a balanced, harmonious presentation and incredibly easy to implement.

When our eyes see well-defined white space, our brains say “The border is not as important, I’m skipping to the text.” The benefits of this simple action provides

  • Increased legibility
  • Higher comprehension (by 20% or more)
  • Increased attention to the offering

You too (not just designers) can meet the needs of your readers

So, when you set up your next text frame, table or sidebar, experiment with the Mysterious design secret no. 1. Your readers will thank you and read, understand and remember your message more often. I think that might be your intent.

1 Comment

  1. martha
    November 20, 2015



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