Business Web Site Design
A web site designer must balance two competing principles.
The first is that surrounding an important point with “white space” is essential to directing the viewers attention to that point. The second principle is that the web page’s “real estate” is exceptionally limited, and a lot of information must be communicated as efficiently as possible.
White space isn’t necessarily white, although white is usually preferred in the online world. It’s simply blank space (or unobtrusive space) that provides a buffer for what the designer wants to be the focal point.
In the newspaper industry there is a term, “above the fold.” The fold is simply the space on the newspaper page which is located above the half-way point, where the newspaper is folded for distribution. Important stories are placed above that half-way point so that those stories will attract the attention of browsers at the newsstand or through the window of a standard newspaper box.
In the web world, the part of the page that first appears on the web site’s visitor’s page is above the fold. If the visitor needs to scroll down the page to see something, it is below the fold. It is the portion of the page that is above the fold that is so scarce and, thus, so valuable–the limited “real estate.”
Consequently, we have to balance those to realities. Should we provide more white space, or should we put as much information above the fold as possible? Our answer to that question depends upon the purpose of our page.
As a rule, on a content page, we may sacrifice white space in order to provide as much enticing information as possible to persuade the viewer to scroll down the page to get even more valuable information. You’ll notice that is the decision we have made in designing this web site, because most of the pages are content (information) pages.
On the other hand, on a product page we may have lots of white space, particularly in the upper left area above the fold. We can have a picture of the product, a few descriptive words and keep the specific, longer description below the fold.
Here’s and example of the above the fold portion of a product page on a major department store’s site.
Notice how much white space there is on the most powerful part of the page–the upper left! Notice how different that is from the above the fold space on the content page you’re now looking at on this site.