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Adding White Space to Your Report

What Is White Space?

White space refers to the areas in your report that do not contain content. [12]

For example, the spaces between the visual elements in a report are considered white space, even if the background color is not white. White space is also referred to as negative space. [8] [12]


Why Use White Space?

  • White space establishes a visual framework that enables the viewer to easily understand the content and organization of the report.
  • Closely-spaced content requires additional time and effort from the viewer to understand.
  • A report that is free of clutter and has ample white space is more visually appealing and elegant. [13]
A Cluttered Report with Precision Layout
A report without enough white space
An uncluttered Report with Precision Layout?
A report with ample white space

Many report designers attempt to fill every pixel of the page with content and decoration. Don't view empty space as "wasted" space. [6] White space plays an essential role in your visual design.

White Space Provides Visual Organization

The white space in your report creates a visual grid that organizes your content. The alignment of visuals on the grid help to connect and separate content. [10] For example, report objects that are side by side in the same row are intuitively understood to be related.

Avoid placing borders around your content. White space can separate your visual elements without creating clutter. [6]

Report showing something

Margins and Padding

As a design principle, it is recommended that you include generous margins and padding around your pages and report objects. [6] In SAS Visual Analytics 8.1 and later, the Padding option enables you to specify the padding around each report object.

To achieve a balanced design, ensure that the padding is consistent for each element on a report page. [13] By using precision layout (or a precision container in 8.1 or later), you can adjust your margins and padding. However, be aware that precision layouts do not adjust well to smaller screens and are often unusable on mobile devices.

Image showing difference between margin and padding
Margin (purple) and padding (green) both help create negative space.

Create a Focal Point

The focal point is the object that grabs the viewers' attention. It provides a starting point for viewers as they take in the content of the page. [6]

To establish an object as the focal point, position it at either the top of the page or the left side (or the right side if your audience reads from right to left). The focal point object should be the largest object on the page, often filling more than 50% of the page width or height.

A Cluttered Report with Precision Layout
A report without a clear focal point
An uncluttered Report with Precision Layout?
A report with a strong focal point

For each page in your report, if there is an object that drives interactions, then that object should be the focal point.

Avoid having multiple elements that compete for the viewer's focus. [6] Omit any unneeded images from the report.


Learn More

Want to dig deeper? The recommendations in this section are based on the following resources as well the experience of SAS consultants and employees.

  1. Bera, P. "Do Distracting Dashboards Matter? Evidence from an Eye Tracking Study." September 2014. Information Systems: Education, Applications, Research. SIGSAND/PLAIS 2014. Lecture Notes in Business Information Processing, vol 193.

  2. Bremser, W. G., & Wagner, W. P. "Developing Dashboards for Performance Management." July 2013. CPA Journal.

  3. Coyle, C. L., Malek, M., Mayse, C., Patil, V., & Shell, S. "Data Can Be Beautiful: Crafting a Compelling Story with SAS Visual Analytics." In Proceedings of the SAS Global Forum 2017 Conference. April 5, 2017.

  4. Delaney, D. "There is Definitely a Grid." 2016.

  5. Few, S. (2013). Information Dashboard Design: Displaying Data for At-a-glance Monitoring (2nd ed.). Analytics Press.

  6. Hagan, R., & Golombisky, K. (2013). White space is not your enemy (2nd ed.). Focal Press.

  7. Lima, M. "Horror Vacui and the battle for white space." Medium. May 22, 2014.

  8. Marcantonio, B. "Design principles - Gestalt, white space and perception." Manifesto. February 6, 2015.

  9. Orlov, P., Ermolova, T., Laptev, V., Mitrofanov, A. and Ivanov, V. "The Eye-tracking Study of the Line Charts in Dashboards Design." February 2016. In Proceedings of the 11th Joint Conference on Computer Vision, Imaging and Computer Graphics Theory and Applications (VISIGRAPP 2016) - Volume 2: IVAPP.

  10. Samara, T. (2005). Making and Breaking the Grid: A Graphic Design Layout Workshop. Rockport Publishers.

  11. Terror, D. "Lessons from Swiss Style Graphic Design." Smashing Magazine. July 17, 2009.

  12. The Paper Mill Store. "Design Principles: White Space." The Paper. January 22, 2016.

  13. Turnbull, C. "Using White Space (or Negative Space) in Your Designs." Envatotuts+. July 19, 2011.

  14. Williams, R. (2015). The Non-Designer's Design book (4th ed.). Peachpit Press.