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White Space Is Your Friend

In the previous section, we recommended that you read about the CRAP design principals as a way of getting starting thinking about and talking about the visual design of your web pages.

Now that you understand what CRAP is, a good next principle is that the background on the page, the “white space,” (also known as “negative space”) is your friend. Cluttered websites where everything is smashed together can be difficult to read. Take a moment to browse Max Standworth’s article 25 Examples of Clean and Well Designed Web Sites. See how in these examples of good design, there is plenty of white space. The text has room to “breathe” and the pages are much more reader friendly for it.

Now suppose your white space is not white, but a background image (this is why we need the term negative space). If the background image is too strong—such as a bright picture or a repeating design behind your text—it will call too much attention to itself. Reading text may be extremely difficult, and you may obscure important information. Look at Ugliest / Worst Over The Top Web Sites of 2009 over at Web Pages That Suck. You’ll find some examples where strong backgrounds are a problem.  Consider a solid color background and add pictures to create interest. Or if you want to use an image as a background, you might be able to fade the image so that it is very subtle against a solid background, almost transparent.

Still, even solid backgrounds can be a problem if there is not enough contrast between the background and the copy on the page. (See, we just used the C of CRAP, contrast, to talk about a web design issue.) The worst cases are color combinations that will give readers migraines, like red text on a blue background. It might look interesting at first, but it will make your readers’ eyes bleed (or at the very least give them a headache) if they have to look it at for longer than a few seconds. Chances are they won’t stick around that long if they see a page full of jarring colors (anyone tired of MySpace yet?).