White Space: Nothing Becomes Something
What is the meaning of white space, if not nothing?
White space is the void between objects in ads, the null in a world of materialism. Yet it hardly has no meaning.
This recent paper from the Journal of Consumer Research looks at symbolism in advertising through white space. Since white space itself is simply absence — it has no color (arguably), no symbols or images — any meaning it has is derived from its past.
Pracejus et al. offer three historical movements that have shaped the identity of white space.
The minimalism movement in the mid-1960s was a response to the loud and aggressive advertising in that time period. Corporate art emerged in the late 1950s to provide elegance to the workplace. The clean look of upscale living in the middle of the 20th century was an image to strive for.
The authors performed two user studies. In the first study, they found that creative directors at major North American advertising agencies believed that white space conveyed prestige and an upscale meaning. This was reaffirmed in a second study where consumers were given ads to examine, where the difference was the amount of white space in the ad. Ads with more white space gave the brand a perception of higher quality, prestige, and trust.
The upscale look of white space is evident on the web, as companies such as Google aim for a cleaner interface of its websites. The polished clean look of Apple’s laptops and iPod also help its image as a high quality, upscale brand.
In the end, it’s evident that “nothing” doesn’t necessarily mean nothing. Sometimes, less is more.
Pracejus, J. W., Olsen, G. D., & O’Guinn, T. C. (2006). How Nothing Became Something: White Space, Rhetoric, History and Meaning. Journal of Consumer Research, 33, 82-90. [PDF]