An active silence

Mar 5, 2010

White space is to be regarded as an active element, not a passive background,” wrote Jan Tschichold in 1930. And just as you cannot ignore white space, you cannot ignore silence, as it’s the white space of conversations.

We get anxious about silence. It connotes issues. Stress. Awkwardness. Yet, like Tschichold’s white space, silence is often an active element in our day-to-day conversations. It can indicate productive thinking is in progress. But we — twitchy, anxious communicators that we are — forget this.

Faith in silence

If you’ve shipped off an email, transmitted a voicemail, and received no reply: fear not. This does not mean your recipient has not heard, seen, understood, respected, and acted upon your message. I would argue, in fact, that a thoughtful message that receives no immediate reply most likely means the recipient is constructing an equally thoughtful message in return. It just hasn’t reached the “send” state.

White space is an active element.

Thoughtful takes time

Give your recipients time. If you don’t hear back, pester not. If you have a deadline, make it clear. If it’s urgent, make it known. But if you’re simply seeking thoughts, give others time to construct their own. A pause. Some white space.

Give silence a chance to be the active element it needs to be. You might be surprised at what you hear, even when you don’t.


  • W.W.Norton & Company
  • Eye Magazine
  • Theme Magazine
  • Maryland Institute of College Art

About Liz

Danzico is part designer, part educator, and full-time dog owner. She traces the roots of her craft back to her parents. According to Liz, "Growing up at least a little information architect gave me an organizational advantage over my friends." More