Cathleen on Why White Space Isn’t Nothing

The following is a guest post by Creative Director Cathleen Ouderkirk on the virtues of white space in book jacket and cover design.

I’m a bit embarrassed to have to rave about the virtues of white space in book jacket design — it seems so obvious. That jumping guy on The Experience Effect wouldn’t be nearly so startling against, say, a blue sky.

Hello… this is Design 101: “use of appropriate white space lends drama to the text and/or image.”

But when we’re reviewing jacket designs here at AMACOM, occasionally phrases like “empty,” “flat,” “boring,” will be hurled at some of our “white spacey” jacket designs. And okay, maybe sometimes the image isn’t worthy of the white space that accompanies it, but in general, I have to adamantly proclaim that “White Space Is Good.”

Example: Would anyone even see that little matchstick on Back Bay BooksThe Tipping Point, without the acres of white around it? You think “wow, what an empty cover…oh wait, there’s a single match stick there…hmmm…and the title “tipping point.” What’s a tipping point got to do with a match stick? It doesn’t look like it’s tipping…

And so, the potential reader is intrigued. The drama grabs them.

I originally thought white space was only about drama; all that emptiness around one image is dramatic and makes you focus on the image or the title. But it’s also about clarity. When you’ve got a simple but subtle image (check out the globe in the eyeglass on The Cultural Intelligence Difference), you need the white space so you can “see” the image within the image.

Here’s another example of clarity. On Selling to the New Elite, there’s very subtle image. Can you see it? Yes, but only because there’s white space around it.

And how about our upcoming book, The 11 Laws of Likability which has a sly visual homage to a smile? You’d never notice it without the predominantly white background.

The moral: the absence of something (color) makes the something that is there, more of a something.

And next blog, just for our Senior Editor Bob Nirkind, The Beauty of Black Space.

Thanks to Pema Studio for designing The Experience Effect and The Cultural Intelligence Difference, to Cynthia Wessendorf for Selling to the New Elite, to Faceout Studio and Marie Doucette for The 11 Laws of Likability and to Michael Ian Kaye for The Tipping Point.

Cathleen Ouderkirk is Creative Director here at AMACOM. With us for over 20 years, she started as a copywriter and then moved to producing catalogs, sales sheets, and direct mail pieces, before moving on to design. After secretly designing on her own book jackets and showing them to the acquisition editors, her work evolved into overseeing all of our jackets today. Visit our website for freelance design inquiries.


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