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How To Use White Space to Design Great Postcards

June 3, 2014

Postcard White Space

When you’re designing a direct mail postcard, space comes at a premium. Postcards are an excellent way to get your message across to prospects quickly, but their small dimensions mean fitting everything in can be a struggle.

Since space is so limited, it’s tempting to fill every square inch of your postcard with your heading, subheading, images and sales copy. This strategy might seem like the most efficient use of space, but it’s actually a serious design error.

When you emphasize everything on your postcard, you actually end up emphasizing nothing. In order for a design to guide readers from heading to subheading and copy to image, it needs to use white space (also known as negative space) effectively.

What is white space?

White space is the empty spacing between the different elements of your postcard design. It defines the content of your postcard and creates a natural flow that gives your readers an understanding of where to start reading and where to stop.

Without white space, it’s almost impossible to read your postcard intuitively. Think of white space like you would spacing between words and letters – without it, even a simple message becomes frustratingly difficult to read.

White space in advertising

When used effectively, white space can create a visual guide for your readers, telling them the direction in which their eyes should travel across your postcard. It can also emphasize a specific element of your design, like a heading or paragraph of copy.

Do you remember the Think Small ad that launched the Volkswagen Beetle in North America that we discussed in a recent post: 5 Elements of Design? By surrounding the three core elements of the ad – the Beetle, the heading and the copy – with white space, Bill Bernbach made it effortlessly simple to read.

Imagine the same advertisement, only with the white space replaced by paragraphs of text or a background image. Without white space, the visual elements that make up the design no longer stand out or catch your eye quite as well.

Using white space effectively

People have a limited attention, and trying to say everything at once often results in you saying nothing at all. Before you print your direct mail postcards, make sure the design uses white space to tell users which message to start reading first.

In graphic design, white space can be broken down into several types. Margins and spaces between lines of copy are white space. The gap between an image and a text block is also white space.

When an element of your postcard is surrounded by white space, it stands out and instinctively attracts the attention of your readers. A heading that’s centered on the page and surrounded by white space is powerful and naturally eye-catching.

Likewise, a call to action that’s surrounded by white space stands out from the copy of your postcard and attracts the attention of readers. Surround your postcard’s key elements – headings, captions and calls to action – in white space for emphasis.

How much is too much?

Every postcard should use white space to effectively communicate its message and give readers an understanding of which elements are most important. However, the right amount of white space varies depending on your postcard and product.

Luxury brands use white space to emphasize their exclusivity. Brands that focus on offering value for money generally don’t pay it as much attention. Depending on the type of message you’re sending, you may wish to emphasize or limit white space.

In general, it’s best to strike a balance between white space and content. With the right combination of active design elements and white space for readability, you’ll achieve a great response rate from a postcard that’s remarkably easy to read.