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March 10, 2019

White Space Is Not Your Enemy Book Review

Book cover of White Space is not Your Enemy by Rebecca Hagen and Kim Golombisky


The third edition of White Space Is Not Your Enemy or as the authors titled WSINYE in the first and second editions, holds to it roots as a beginner’s text to visual communication. It combines concepts and commonalties across various career tracks like news, public relations, advertising, and marketing. While geared towards individuals who want to learn more about visual communication as it relates to the typical careers that heavily use visual communication, this book is also an excellent primer for someone who needs to communicate visually but isn’t sure how to start. As it turns out, that is lots of all the way from students to the one-person business owner to educators to cash strapped non-profits to larger organizations with communication teams. Happily, the book’s cheerful and relaxed nature make it an accessible even to the most uncertain person who worries about being able to create quality visual communication.

Three themes create the foundation for all of the chapters.

  • Effective graphic design does four things: It captures attention, controls eye movement, conveys information and evokes emotion.
  • All design uses three building blocks: visuals, type and negative space.
  • Beginners need to learn the conventional rules first before earning the right to break said rules.

Overview of the Book

The twelve chapters, loosely grouped into four categories, build upon each other to create more depth of knowledge. The first four chapters are essentially a short course is design. Chapters five and six cover the fundamentals of design and layout. In chapters seven, eight, and nine, the authors dive deeper intp specific design strategies for using fonts, color, and images. The last groups of chapters focus on specific types of visual communication like infographics, websites, video, and print such as flyers and brochures.

In each chapter, you will find tons of full color examples that reinforce the concepts, strategies, and principles covered. One thing I really like about the book is at the end of each chapter there is a section labeled “Try This” which are a set of questions and tasks the reader can complete to reinforce what they just read and learned. (Yes, the teacher in me did a little jump of joy when I saw this.)

While it is difficult for me to say I have a favorite chapter or chapters, the two that I think are especially useful to the beginner who isn’t necessarily pursuing a career associated with visual communication are Chapter Three “I need to design this today” and Chapter Four “Layout sins.” Chapter three includes what the authors call “the works-every-time layout” and is a fantastic tutorial on how to quickly design anything from a flyer to a web page.

Chapter four includes a list of 13 sins that most beginners do. After reading the chapter, I was nodding and say, ‘Yep, I’ve seen all of these and typically more than one on a single communication piece.’ Why I like this chapter is, not to make people feel ashamed, but because most novices don’t know what they are doing is bad design. Most just know it isn’t great but believe what they’ve done is passable. Also, once you know what bad design is, you can’t not see it and it makes you want to do better next time.


When you read this book, you will want to read it cover to cover first. This approach gives you the foundational knowledge you need to get started. Then you can use it as a quick reference and/or re-read a chapter as you need it to refresh your knowledge or if you want to redo the “Try This” section after having more know-how.

The White Space is not your Enemy book is definitely one of the better books out there to learn the basics of design and you won’t be disappointed should you choose to buy or even check it out from your local library.

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Jennifer Sharkey is known as the Virtual Presentation Specialist. Being passionate about seeing people shine and be heard, she leans into her 20+ years of public speaking experience and uses what she has learned from presenting, both in-person and virtually, to small groups all the way up to 5000 people. Jennifer draws from her experience as an associate professor, academic librarian, and coach to help holistic coaches master virtual presentations to grow their business. Her unique immersive program provides practical strategies and methods to build confidence, engage audiences, and generate authenticity and authority.

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