Appendix B
Episode 020 -

UX Principles: White Space for Inclusive Design

Appendix B Episode 20, text is present that reads, "UX Principles: White Space for Inclusive Design""

What role does white space play in web design?
In Part One of our series on UX Principles, Kristin and Joel dive into the impact white space has on UX. There are three key reasons for utilizing white space: it conveys a sense of quality and focus, it improves user engagement by reducing cognitive load, and it creates a psychologically comfortable experience. 
What was that adage again? Oh, that’s right. Keep it simple, Sammy.
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Carl Gratiot:
From Bravery Media, this is Appendix B. This week we have the first of our three part series on UX Principles. This is Part One, White Space for Inclusive Design. And now here are your hosts, Kristin Van Dorn and Joel Goodman.

Joel Goodman:
So Kristin, sometimes I question why. I got into this kind of work and if…

Kristin Van Dorn:
Oh, that’s deeper and more existential than I thought it was gonna be, go for it.

Joel Goodman:
My whole career, especially doing website redesigns with institutions, there’s, you know, I, I expect that there’s gonna be, some sort of, you know, there’s gonna be collaboration, there’s gonna be kind of back and forth on design questions, on content, questions on that sort of thing. But the one consistent thing that I’ve found working with, especially Higher Ed, is you’ll get a design together,

There will have been feedback and collaboration during the whole process. And then when you go to get sign off, you inevitably get someone or a few people and you usually don’t know who it is because like, you know, they’ll take it off and they’ll have anywhere from three to 23 people looking at the website and leaving comments in like a Google Doc and then they’ll compile it all for you.

The common pushback that we get, is reduce the white space. This feels like there needs to be more stuff in this space. I feel like there should be widgets here. You know, like that sort of thing. And I always have to, I always have to remind our clients that we’re not just designing stuff to look pretty.

We’re not randomly choosing where things go on the page. All the design comes out of research and strategy and our choices for white space, which, and you know, I think we use a lot of white space in our design at Bravery, for a good reason, But a, a lot of you know, all of those choices that we make are based on getting to a specific result and are based on the research that we have in front of us that we’ve done over the previous amount of time.

And it’s one of those frustrating things, because we know what happens if we reduce white space. And so I want to talk with you a little bit about that because you have the more formal, UX education and application of user experience design and research. And, I’m much more, self-taught in this regard.

But I know you’ve looked into this and you’ve done some studies and some academic research around this, but like, why would you want just empty spots of nothing on their website? Why wouldn’t we want to fill those up with random garbage?

Kristin Van Dorn:
Oh my gosh.

Well, I don’t think that they wanna fill it with random garbage, and I have intuitions about why they get scared of white space. But what I can say about why I think white space is so valuable, and why it’s surprising every time when someone asks us to reduce white space is because basically like three different things.

One is that if you look at brands across time when they use white space, it’s usually to convey a sense of fanciness, you know, that like you have a sense that this is worth more, that it’s more valuable because A, like we just have a spatial recognition that the more something draws our eye and causes us to focus, that it’s more important, in a store space.

When something feels sparse, it means it signals to us a higher quality. We want you to focus on one thing at a time. We think that this one thing is worth your time and focus, so there’s a signal of quality. Secondly, I would say in terms of just a person’s attention span, that having one thing to focus on at a time means that they’re actually gonna engage with your stuff.

They’re actually gonna read your content. They’re actually going to take in your photo. They might actually watch your video. That having one thing at a time takes the cognitive load off of being distracted midway through receiving one message for another. There’s less competition between your own messages, so you’re not eroding someone’s attention span when you give them a lot of white space.

Give them a lot of like cognitive air to breathe, right. And the last piece that I would say of why whitespace is so essential is knowing your users, you know, we’ve looked at UX for the last 20 years about creating delight, but user experience is not only about creating delight, it’s also about, protecting people from their traumatic experiences that all of us come to our digital spaces, any space really with our own sense of experience.

And when you practice trauma informed UX, you find that people that have just a cognitively different way of processing information, that the more simple you can make it, the more space around it you can give it, the more comfortable they’ll be psychologically.

Joel Goodman:
So it’s, it’s actually kind of an accessibility thing, at least, that third part.

We think of accessibility a lot in terms of WCAG standards and, you know, ADA guidelines and this very legal, strict technical sort of thing. But accessibility goes a lot beyond that. It goes into how you write your content, it goes into how fast your website loads, as I’ve talked about a ton over the last couple of years.

But then there’s this other piece in terms of like, how are you actually doing the design? It’s more than just color contrast and making sure someone with, you know, someone who has maybe low visibility or has low visibility can’t, or can see the contrast of text, against a background.

It also goes into this part of people that have differences in how they process visual information, how they process information in general. The more simple you can make it, the better it is for that person. And so by cluttering it up, you’re just adding this confusion.

Kristin Van Dorn:
Yeah. I think that it is an accessibility issue and it dovetails nicely with trauma informed UX.

But it’s also just getting to the idea that anyone that comes to your site, they could have had experiences for years that make taking in a website difficult with competing messages, or they could have had an experience earlier that day that make taking in information with competing messages difficult.

What we wanna do is make this as easy for anyone. It’s gonna be an easier and, more interesting experience when you can cut down on that cognitive load and give someone a chance to take things in at their own pace.

Joel Goodman:
This is also very central to the really good results that we’ve seen in the last several years with our conversion rate optimization work.

When we look at UX, hierarchies, especially on a page, the content information architecture on say a homepage or on a landing page, we want to go for these bigger white space, single message, single topic sort of hierarchies in the way that we build our content because we know that, anyone, you know, anyone bringing earlier traumas or past baggage or even same day traumas to the site, other people that maybe haven’t experienced recent trauma that’s going to affect how they take in content, are also going to find it easier to read, regardless.

They’re gonna find it easier to parse the messages and things that you want to give them, regardless. And we see that playout in the huge conversion rate increases that we’ve seen with our clients. National University, 128% year over year increase in conversion rates because we simplified and that narrative structure of content on the page and added a lot more white space.

So folks could focus on one thing as they were scrolling through the site, you know, 400% year over year increase for Greenville University, you know, same thing. Our recommendations are always along the lines of making the visual hierarchy and content hierarchy simpler for anyone that comes in, because that focus on one thing helps everyone.

Kristin Van Dorn:
Well, I mean there have been studies done in, medicine and in legal practices that show that the most educated, the smartest, most talented people in the world still prefer content that is simple, that is in plain language that is easy to read. So this idea that just because someone can do it means that that’s what it should be, is just what you’re doing is you are putting up barriers to someone converting easily.

So it’s, because you still have people that are able to scale those barriers and get over them, doesn’t mean that the barrier should be there, it just means that you’re creating a gate for them to go through before that they can just select your institution as the place that they wanna be at.

So it just requires a little bit more conscientious curation and thought and an eye towards the process and towards what the user is expecting, what the user is hoping for, what the user wants, and that means knowing exactly who your prospects are, being confident that you’ve talked with them, that you understand what they’re looking for.

And I think sometimes our deepest concerns about getting, or taking a more bold approach and a more trimmed down approach is that we’re gonna miss someone.

Carl Gratiot:
Thank you so much for listening to Appendix B. If you want to hear more from Bravery, please check out our newsletter at That’s a good URL, right? And if you, if you’re feeling generous, please consider leaving us a review. And if you do and you tell me about it, I will respond to you on LinkedIn with a video where I recite a sonnet.

So if you do leave a review, please let me know and I’ll be sure to do that. And I’m not kidding. Thank you. And we will talk to you next week. Bye-bye.