Space in the Margins

When I teach Layout and Design, we spend a great deal of time talking about margins. Margins organize space in a design by allowing “white space” to offset the area containing the content on a page.

For example, on this website, you’ll see a margin to the left containing, well, nothing, and a margin to the right with links to all kinds of information. The header on this site contains both text and white space. These spaces provide a visual pattern for the reader that allows the viewer to focus more acutely on the important information.

Margins often achieve an anesthetic ideal, meaning that when they are used correctly, we don’t even notice their presence. When margins are too large you’ll notice the white space more than the content; and when margins are too small you won’t know what to examine first.

Margin, by Richard SwensonWhen I came across Dr. Richard Swenson’s book, Margin (2004), I was surprised to see this concept applied to life as we live it each day. Swenson talks about margin as it relates to our emotional, physical, financial, relational, and spiritual activities, advocating for a society in which people can make space for their priorities: “Margin is not (just) having time to finish the book you’re reading on stress; margin is having the time to read it twice.”

What Swenson calls us toward is a lifestyle in which the margin is a space that we actively create for ourselves. How? By carving out time and energy for living, relating, and enjoying the opportunity for the unexpected.

So often our lives, like our websites, are full of stuff we’ve designed. In the midst of such fullness, let us remember to also design the margin.

What could you achieve with space in the margin?

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