Mark Boulton has written an interesting article over on A List Apart concerning the use of whitespace in page and web design. Particularly interesting is the concept of micro whitespace, the space around words, letters, between lines, paragraphs and list items and how it can increase readability. There's also some interesting points about how whitespace can convey elements about your brand (take a look at someone like Apple for good use of whitespace). I was particularly caught by a couple of paragraphs:
A couple of months ago, I was lucky enough to see Erik Spiekermann give a lecture. Part of his talk addressed his redesign of The Economist newspaper, which was partly motivated by the client’s realization that their design was too heavy and the content too difficult to read.
In newspaper design, information is dense. Sometimes, as in web design, it’s difficult to add whitespace because of content requirements. Newspapers often deal with this by setting their body content in a light typeface with plenty of whitespace within and around the characters. This was part of Spiekermann’s solution for the redesign of The Economist.
If you've seen more than one of my sites you'll see a theme in their design is their simple, clean, often very spacious layouts. Partly that's down to my lack of imagination and graphic design skills, partly it's through choice. I've visited a lot of websites and there are sites which overwhelm the senses because they've crammed something into every usable pixel on the screen and things are flashing and moving and trying to grab your attention, you'd need to have downed a crate of Red Bull followed by a six-pack of coke and a box of pro-plus just to stand a chance of taking it all in, never mind concentrating on what you came to see. It spoils the content (tutorial and news sites are usually the worst offenders for this, and the ones who need to present their content correctly the most). Most of my sites and themes are based on a two-column layout, mainly because I don't want to cram too much in, I want to highlight the content and give it some space, make it nicely presented and readable and because, frankly, I can't find enough stuff of interest to fill three columns, nor do I think any visitor needs to see all that stuff the first instant they visit the site (do people really want to see your most popular tags, who recently commented or what you're currently listening to on the home page?). Give people the ability to navigate your site however they want, easily and conveniently, but don't ram all your content and every way they can browse it down their throats the minute they arrive.