Objects Need Their Space
When talking to a friend or coworker, there is an undefined set distance that is comfortable and acceptable to both parties. If one person is too close, the offender is considered to be a "close talker." It's why there are suburbs. I believe people like the suburbs because there is more space between their house and their neighbors' home. Homes in the 'burbs are not built right on top of the lot lines, without buffers. Why? Because people like a little space. There appears to be an unwritten rule in nature that everything needs a little space. Plants need a space to grow, or start to compete, then wither. Whether it's called margin, padding, white space or buffer, it's there to make us feel comfortable. Do you hear that developers?
In design, the same applies. Every element needs a little space. Text should not press up against graphics, or reside 1 pixel from the left hand navigation bar. Buttons should not touch each other, or nudge up against a form element. Line height should be adjusted to make reading easy for the audience, and just because I am on a roll, pull down menus should be anchored to something, not appear randomly on top of the page.
I cannot tell you how many times I have created a nice clean digital ad, email, website or application, have produced the graphics down to the pixel, developed W3C compliant code and CSS so that the design works in all operating systems and browsers, and have handed it over to software developers, who in turn, use their Microsoft ASP.Net toolset to rebuild the code "their own way. "
When I receive the project back for review, it looks close to the original, but it is does not like what I gave them. Why? When I send the developers "Mickey Mouse", why do I get "Ricky Rat" back in return? When comparing apples and apples, can the developers not see they created a lemon?
No Fixed Rules
Apparently, there are no fixed rules, which is probably a good thing. If there were fixed rules, all sites would look the same, and the diversity or art of the website would be all but gone. Good design most likely falls along the lines of The Gestalt Principles, where there are defined behaviors of visual perception. Perhaps it is cognitive psychology where we explore visual perception in a reactionary way.
But why is it so bothersome when text resides too close to an image, or rests next to the border of an image or box? I believe we just like things to have their place and space, be aligned and for the most part, be balanced.
But can we use this edge tension, this technique derived from my stubborn web developers, to our advantage? The answer is yes.
Creating unbalance and edginess can call attention to text. If working on a project that discusses crowding, tension or pressure, for instance, placing the text pinched, squashed or against the side of a container could really pound home the message. Cutting off or cropping text is another way to send the message. The trick to this is simply making it look intentional, and back up this decision with a professional look.
In photography, placing an object off center in a photo can call attention to it, make it more interesting and make it speak louder than if placed in the center. Cropping images is also a powerful tool.
The bottom line is keeping your design clean, and consistent. If your text is aligned and has adequate padding 99 out of 100 places your design will suffer if and when your user finds the one spot it is not consistent. Keep padding or margin around graphics, as I am hard pressed to ever remember where text against graphics ever looked good.
If you have pulled it off, drop us a line.