The Power of Whitespace

Whitespace should not be considered merely “blank” space — it is the element of design that enables the objects on the page to exist.–The Segue Creative Team 

As a middle school Reading/Language Arts teacher for grades 6-8, I spend a good portion of my time teaching various writing techniques.  Currently, in my 7th grade classes, we are focused on writing various styles of poetry with the emphasis on exploring various elements of figurative language techniques and literary devices.  Of particular importance to writing poetry, I believe, is to draw the reader into an image/story/feeling in the way a good song has the power to  draw in the listener and attach a particular feeling/image to it. 

Part of the skill in writing a relatable poem is not only using specific words, figurative devices, and imagery, but also incorporating the power of white space.  In the same way my grandmother taught me that our eyes eat food before we taste it, a poem should likewise draw readers’ eyes into the arrangement of the piece first.  In order to do that, writers must learn to use the white space.

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Whitespace 

Creates

Balance and  Style

Although it is often called “negative” space, there is nothing negative about appropriate use of white space.  In fact, when duly used, white space increases readability–up to 25% according to some sources.  White space provides breathing room for the reader, a purposeful pause, or point of emphasis. It can create a sense of balance, harmony, and style.  The eye has time to “catch its breath” and focus on the meaning of each line, word, phrase.  A sense of play, intense emotion, or serious tone can also be emphasized and enhanced through the appropriate use of white space–adding power and emphasis to select words.  By giving students permission to incorporate white space, they are more focused on words that are specific and succinct.  This is an important and transferable skill when switching to more formal writing styles that require a clear, concise, and compelling writing style. 

Whitespace is THE fundamental building block of good design . . .  provides visual breathing room for the eye.–The Segue Creative Team

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On a recent long Saturday morning run, it occurred to me that the notion of white space, as a mental construct, is underused and undervalued in our daily lives.  It is one of the things I most appreciate about my longer weekend runs is the fact that it gives me permission–and time–to let my mind wander.  Many, if not most, of my weekday runs are completed on a treadmill before I do a few strengthening exercises.  During these workouts, I typically wear headphones to listen to music, podcasts, or audible books–depending upon the workout and my mood/interest.  However, when I run outside, I rarely wear headphones; and thereby, I experience the freedom of mental whitespace.

Much of our daily life is consumed with some form of media content consumption.  From the time we get up and, quite often, until we go to bed, many of us are continually interacting and engaging with screens.  Emails, social media, work, news, even cooking, project-building, and other how-to content require some form of on-screen encounter. From content that is audible, to content that is visual, to an interplay of both, much of human interaction is now completed on-line.  As a result, our mind has become trained to repeatedly and frequently seek points of what I call distracted-focus.  Furthermore, it has never been easier to do this at any time, day or night.

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As society’s utilization of technology changes, shifts, and evolves, our minds have been forced to adapt.  Our phones wake us up, and while I can never do this for fear of falling back to sleep, I am told that many people remain in bed for several minutes, and upwards to an hour, upon waking, scrolling through media content that happened during those hours devoted to sleep. While we drive our kids to school, they are busy with screens, and we are engaged in handsfree calling or texting.  Once at work, many of us, myself included, utilize multiple devices at once as our eyes and minds shift back and forth from screen to screen, and, depending upon your career, from person to person.  At day’s end, despite eye fatigue and even brain drain, our minds still desire to scroll through social media and news outlets as the brain, like a tired toddler, still craves even more stimulation to keep going.  In a sense, our minds have become the proverbial “Energizer bunny,” continually banging on the drums of our consciousness for more, more, more.

Whitespace not only creates harmony, balance, and helps to brand a design. . . .–The Segue Creative Team

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Personally, I need breathing space, and I honestly believe that most of us do.  Time away from screens, schedules, and scintillating images/demands.  Unplugging from the visual and auditory distractions of our devices, provides our brain with whitespace–the space to pause and breathe.  I liken it to opening the door and letting a child, or even a pet, go outside to run off steam at the end of the work/school day. When you unplug, it frees the mind to mentally roam or simply be still.  By unplugging, you begin to notice the sounds of nature or even household appliances.  Unplug, and you might see things through new eyes–eyes that are fully focused, rather than distracted.  Unplug, and your senses have permission to roam–noticing the way air caresses your face, the aromas of your surroundings, the full flavor of your coffee, or other favorite beverage, as it dances over your taste buds.  Unplug, and you can breathe deeply and luxuriously as if you have all of the time in the world. Even your ability to think creatively and/or problem-solve increases more when you unplug.

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In the same way white space creates harmony and balance to the design of a web page, book, or even a 7th grade poem, creating “white space” moments in life, allows us to also feel more harmonious, balanced, and perhaps even, peaceful.  As a deep breath or sigh is gratifying to the lungs, and bring calmness to a tough moment, time unplugged offers the mind moments to rest, refresh, and recharge, providing you with more clarity and the ability to focus on what’s really important as well as give you permission to see the extraneous for the distractions they actually are. 

 It doesn’t matter if you take a break from screens inside the comfort of your own home, or outside in fresh air, unplugging and not-doing, is never a waste of time, or well, waste of space.  I especially enjoy unplugging when I am outside for a run, walk, or hike, but I also have found white space moments in the quietude of a car with all distractions turned off, including radio, or in the quiet moments of my home when others are still sleeping or momentarily out.  The ability to unplug may not occur every day, but white space of the mind, be it vacations, exercise, hobbies, or other down-time moments, judiciously scattered throughout the week and/or even month, offers innumerable benefits and is certainly worth prioritizing.  

In the same way white space creates harmony and balance to the design of a book or web site, creating "white space" moments in life, allows us to feel more harmonious, balanced, and perhaps even more peaceful.
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