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Whitespace and Typography – The Saviours of Usability

…It is not surface, it is not the last thing that needs to be considered, it is the thing itself” – Stephen Fry

Unformatted code is analogous to an essay without paragraphs – or perhaps a paragraph without punctuation: all the data you need to understand the ‘essay’ is there, but without the correct formatting it just appears to be a jumble of words without any real thought or structure behind it. To fully understand the program (essay) we must be able to decipher the constituent parts and understand them as separate entities as well as inter-related parts. In programming, formatting and indentation aid understanding – without them, this task becomes exceedingly difficult. It’s the same as how without punctuation, we cannot fully understand the context of a sentence or paragraph.

It was here that I wanted to write about whitespace and its importance in programming, graphic design and photography. However, browsing the Internet to find some good articles to plagiarise verbatim reference and cite correctly, I came across a great piece on the powerful use of whitespace from A List Apart. Focusing on the design of both web and print media, the theories found there can be translated to many different types of content: advised reading if – like me – you’re a newcomer to design and usability theory.

Clicking through to the author’s website I discover that not only does Mark Boulton work a leisurely 5 minute stroll from my current place of work, but he also creates interesting and beautifully simple presentations – my favourite of which is Better Typography; produced for the Berlin Web 2.0 Expo on the importance of typography in design. With its practical and usable examples and vivid depictions of the impact typography can have, I advise giving it a read. Mark’s kindly allowed me to mirror the presentation locally, and I feel that Paola Antonelli’s TED Talk is a perfect compliment if you’re reading about design and typography for the first time.

Finally, if anyone has a good book recommendation on design, usability, etc. it’ll definitely make a welcome addition to my Intelligence by Osmosis series.


  1. Posted January 23, 2008 at 21:22 | Permalink

    Mark Boulton kicks ass. I saw him at SXSW last year, giving a talk about web type. He really understands it from the design side, and he’s translating it to the web in a way that really goes back to the basics of typography: visual rhythm, etc. I mean, just look at his web site! :-)

    Speaking of web type, have you played with blueprint CSS?

  2. Posted January 24, 2008 at 11:22 | Permalink

    I love how he just ‘gets’ the relationship between type and design. It’s one thing to understand them, but to really have a sense for how it will all come together is something else. As you say: look at his web site (and yours, for that matter)!

    I hadn’t heard of Blueprint CSS before, although looking at it now it seems like an elegant and simple – yet powerful – design solution. I think I’ll definitely have to find some time to play with it.