The fear of whitespace is killing profit

Business wants to find a solution to what they fear most, how to increase whitespace. I can’t tell you how many creative meetings I’ve been in where the business lead proclaims, “we need clean lines and a sophisticated open space.” However, the reality is an inverse relationship between the amount of whitespace and the value proposition of a company. As companies grow, they tend to believe they need to appeal to the critical mass to be successful. They start the change by jamming store windows with product and price discounts, a just in case mentality. The principle learning is this, as the fear of open space increases, the perceived value of the product or service decreases. If stores want to increase margin dollars, they need to become more boutique. Less is more. To create less, reduce product density and increase whitespace.

For example, furniture stores jam product into every available space including corners. It’s all about product density: price laddering, options, options, options. They want open space, but insecurity in the product assortment selection and the category manager being measured against sales per square foot on the floor can’t get beyond the fear factor of open space. The thinking goes something like this; if no product occupies the space, then no sales will occur in that area.

The same goes for graphic design. “Paper is expensive,” yells the category manager, “we must fill the space with product, product, product, every item needs a price tag. And make it big!” Throw in a starburst so the consumer can see how extra special that door crasher is! What is a designer supposed to do in a promotion driven flyer? You know the design sucks because there is no whitespace left in which to breathe.

To promote an association of higher value become a minimalist. Reduce the supporting design infrastructure, reorganize and chunk information into smaller size snowballs, increase alignment of elements, reduce the price tags, and finally edit. Kill redundant products on the page in favour of education and only show the most appropriate product or service. Understand what the purpose of the flyer or store window is for. Category managers listen up, “it’s eye candy.” Your challenge should you wish to accept, is to engage the consumer long enough to inspire them to stop and open the door, turn the page, or click through to the landing page. Customers don’t need a lower price, another product; they crave a better story. Edit, edit and edit some more. Want to know what makes a good artist great? It’s editing out what’s not essential and developing the composition in the remaining space.

Lastly, be afraid of offering sales. Consumers will quickly realize your promotional strategy and will just ask for your sale price. The erosion of margin dollars is the quickest way to become a bottom feeder. In today’s world, there are very few companies left that can survive on advertising lowest price. Instead, increase the whitespace and tell a better story! Dare to be open and different.


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