SugarSpun: The White Space Conundrum (+ Homemade Ricotta Recipe)

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We have a saying in our office. When someone is going above and beyond the normal creative effort to a Pinterest-type effort, we say they are “jenning” it. For those of you who don’t know our founder and president, Jennifer Evans Cario is amazingly creative, incredibly detail-oriented and very driven. When a project piques her attention, she will take it to the creative hilt and then some. If you’ve been on our Instagram page, you’ll see her creativity at work from the Lego cakes she has made or the American Girl party she had for her daughter. Not to mention her brainchild fundraiser for Bentworth Blessing, her nonprofit organization of choice. What an adventure that was!

When it comes to food, Jen will occasionally “jen” it there as well. The first time she made fully homemade lasagna,  it took 8 hours for her homemade noodles, ricotta and bolognese sauce. But, the masterpiece was worth it. While the takeaway from that singular experience is another blog post unto itself, the lesson had been learned and this time, when I helped make the lasagna, we didn’t “jen” it. The ricotta, however, had to be homemade because it’s simple, real and delicious. For the record, that isn’t “jenning” it – it’s just the way it should to be.

There was something calming about watching the creamy white liquid turn into ricotta cheese. I stood over the stove and stirred occasionally as the temperature slowly rose on the milk, buttermilk and cream. Maybe it was the repetitive motion of the stirring or maybe it was the heat, but for whatever reason, it reminded me of blogs and the battle for white space.

The White Space Battle

Not long ago, I was looking over websites for a client, gathering ideas for a new design and color. I was struck by how busy and full some blogs were, as if they were trying to cram every bit of information into a small space. Some of them genuinely hurt my brain. Part of it is a design issue and part of it is an unfortunate effect of too much advertising. Between that obnoxious, slow-rising box at the bottom suggesting another blog or a new car, the advertising that flashes on the right telling you what to buy, and the social media prompts that cover up parts of the writing on the left, I was so completely distracted by what Google ads wanted me to look at that I didn’t catch the article I was there to read in the first place! Let’s also not forget how quickly I, and therefore other visitors too, want to click away from a page that takes too long to load thanks to an overload of flashing products or pop-up ads.

White space as a design element is important for your incoming customers. As Human Factors cited, “Use of whitespace between paragraphs and in the left and right margins increased comprehension by almost 20%. (Lin, 2004).” It also gives the reader’s eye a breather. Plus, there’s the psychological factor. Another study that Human Factors mentioned focused on trust. “Design is a key determinant to building on-line trust with consumers. For motivated users of an information site, bad design (busy layout, small print, too much text) hurts more than good design helps. (Sillence, Briggs, Fishwick, and Harris, 2004).”

As someone with a journalist background, white space was drilled into my head. When it comes to layout, white space is invaluable not only because it doesn’t force the important elements to compete, but it also has a calming effect on the reader so they can focus on the biggest element – the content of your blog.

As designer and blogger Mark Boulton explains, “[I]f you don’t consider all your whitespace, that’s just bad design. Passive whitespace creates breathing room and balance.”

White Space Is More Than a Design Issue

White space doesn’t just apply to design. There’s also white space as it applies to writing. How you frame your words is just as important as the subject or the graphics you use to promote it. When writing, remember the ABCs – Accuracy, Brevity and Clarity. It’s for journalistic writing, but it can apply to all writing. Think of it as white space for the written word.

Accuracy – Be sure you have all the facts and can back them up with research if needed.

Brevity – Don’t beleaguer a point once you’ve made it. It’s far more classy to make your point concisely rather than meander down a rabbit hole or two to finally end up at your conclusion.

Clarity – This is where grammar comes in. Use words appropriate to your audience’s reading level, use proper grammar and edit ruthlessly – don’t be afraid to take out sentences that are superfluous. Have you ever heard the phrase “they bled all over my article?” Editors used to go over stories with a red pen, using specific editing shorthand to cut words, add punctuation or move things around. In other words,  “bleeding” on an article. As painful as some of those bloodletting edits are, it’s an important part of creating content that will have readers returning again and again.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line here is that white space in website design AND in writing is important for your readers because it builds trust, keeps them focused, and gives them a reason to return for more.

Sicilian Homemade Ricotta Cheese

(taken from Orcashottie on allrecipe.com)

Ingredients

  • 1 gallon whole milk

  • 1 quart buttermilk

  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 18-inch squares cheesecloth

Directions

  1. Line a large colander or sieve with 4 layers of cheesecloth. Set aside.
  2. Heat milk, buttermilk, heavy cream, and salt in a large, heavy, nonreactive saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally for the first 10 minutes. Continue heating, without stirring, until the temperature reaches 190 degrees F. Remove from heat and let stand for 1 hour. The mixture will be separated into white curds and clear whey.
  3. Using a slotted spoon, ladle approximately 1/4 of the curds into the cheesecloth-lined colander. Gather up the corners of the top cheesecloth and secure closed with a zip tie. Repeat with the rest of the curds, cheesecloth, and zip ties. Use the last zip tie to thread all of the cheeses together. Suspend the cheeses over a large wooden spoon over a large bowl, and let drain for 2 hours.
  4. Place the four cheeses, still in cloth, in a bowl in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, cut zip ties, and transfer cheese to an airtight container.
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