How can I convince a stubborn client that white space is absolutely necessary?


We have all been there: you show a client your design and they say "look at all that unused space, we can go ahead and make the text bigger, in fact let me give you more copy. We need to make use of that space!"

I always try to explain to them the value of white space and how it can potentially impact the perceived value of the product/service. I have seen this question and agree with its answers. Its answers are geared towards getting designers to understand the reasons but my question is:

What is the best "silver bullet" way to convince a client that white space has incredible value? Is there a great example or argument that will silence them and make them feel satisfied?

Update: This question pertains mainly to print or web design, not software/interface/interactive design.

4/13/2017 12:46:00 PM

Accepted Answer

Well… your bullet doesn't have to be silver as long as you hit a vital spot.

Sadly, there isn't one. There's an awful lot of people who are unable to visualize design (thankfully, otherwise we'd all be wearing foam hot-dog suits for a living), which is why they come to us. A few points you should try to make:

1) "I'm the expert, and you would be wasting your money if you didn't give my (professional, experienced) judgement the weight it deserves". These folks wouldn't even blink if a plumber told them that the pulse modulator in the secondary warp coil in their bathroom toilet had broken loose and would have to be re-aligned (no - really. I worked as a plumber in college). So why are they arguing with you? Obviously, "You're a stupid doo-doo head who should let me do the job you're paying me to do" isn't the most diplomatic phrasing. But point out that they are paying good money for a product (and it's not necessarily the document / web site they end up with - it's the design judgement and aesthetic sense you bring to the table).

2) Give them a mockup that purposely shows why that white space is important. Tell them: "Most people won't read past the second sentence - your message is too important to get lost in a sea of text" (yes, I know - sometimes shameless ego massage is needed. You can always scrub yourself clean later). Ask them to spend 15 seconds reading the page and to mark where they stopped. Show them how the important parts get lost in a sea of text and remind them that most of the world's attitude toward the written word seems to be "TL;DR". I sent my boss the study that showed the eye tracking pattern for web sites to convince him that "less is better".

3) In the end, you may have to give up. After all, they're paying for it. But if it's a design that completely horrifies you there are a couple of things you should do. First and foremost, keep a copy of any and all dialog (including phone calls, even if it's only a quick series of notes with a time a date stamp). That way, when everyone keeps telling your client that their web site is hard to read you'll have something to use as a backstop. Also, make it clear that you will not be placing your name or reputation anywhere on this web site (even if you don't regularly do it). Again, some diplomatic language is probably best, but if you don't believe in the design you shouldn't have to take the credit (or blame) for it.

7/29/2011 11:59:00 AM

Not to detract from lawndartcatcher's excellent answer, there are some additional pointers that might help:

  • Don't ever make the client wrong, especially when they are. Clients are human (for the most part, anyway), and if there's one thing a human can't stomach it's being wrong. This is so much the case that proving to someone that they're wrong absolutely forces them to maintain their rightness against all logic, and will pretty much guarantee you never do business with them again. What you have to do is acknowledge they "have a good point," and you understand the concern, then show them that there's another aspect to the problem that they "may not have considered" because it's not intuitive/not common knowledge/a secret among successful advertisers (which gives them the idea you're about to initiate them into an elite insiders' club).

  • You can take the approach that, "You know, Mr. Jones, I used to feel exactly the same way." (Maintains the relationship, indicates you understand and don't think them wrong.) "But after a few projects that didn't get the results I wanted for the clients..." (indicating you're on the client's side, that you have experience, and that this isn't just you trying to be superior) "... I realized how true the old maxim is, about 'Less is more'."

  • Talk to them about the three stages of an ad: Interrupt (Attract), Engage (Interest), Educate (Deliver the message). Unless the piece grabs attention right away (and for a web page, an ad or a flyer you have about a half-second at most before the viewer clicks away/flips the page/tosses the piece), it doesn't matter how much copy is on the page; it will never be read.

  • Use the example of a single short sentence in the middle of an otherwise blank page. It is impossible not to read it, because it's so startling (attracts attention) and mysterious (piques interest) that no-one can resist.