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  • Writer's pictureOscar Martinez

Dashboard design basics - Whitespace

Updated: Nov 11, 2022

After some years of taking care of some apple trees in my garden, I've learned that a healthy tree requires an essential element: space.

A tree without enough space between its branches will lack enough air circulation needed to avoid fungus, and the flowers will not have the required sun exposure for growing delicious apples; good dashboard design works similarly; a well-designed dashboard requires space between its elements; and, in both cases (apples and dashboards) clutter is the enemy to defeat.

What is whitespace?

Whitespace is the space in your dashboard that doesn't contain any element. Whitespace is also known as "negative space" in some design circles (as it doesn't need to be white)."

Below, I will mention some of the whitespace elements and uses that are good to keep in mind while designing your next awesome dashboard.

1. Types of whitespace by its size.

1.1 Macro whitespace: The ample space surrounding your report. Enough macro whitespace will give your design the feeling of openness and clarity.

1.2 Micro whitespace: The space between the elements of your dashboard: The distance between visuals, between title and borders, between lines in a text, etc.

Micro and macro whitespace in your dashboard
Whitespace types

2. Types of whitespace by its usefulness

2.1 Active whitespace: The space that you consciously leave for purposes of structure, highlight, and delimitation.

2.2 Passive whitespace: this is the "natural" space you didn't put on purpose, but it is still important to manage, like the space between words, lines of text, or surrounding your graph.

3. Uses for whitespace

Having mentioned the types of whitespace, now it's time to understand its use.

1. Highlight elements: A good dashboard should direct the user's eyes where it matters, that is, to the most critical content; whitespace can help us to do so by creating a visual hierarchy.

Use whitespace to highlight elements

2. Element grouping. A primary Gestalt principle is the one of "proximity," which claims that things closer to each other appear to have a stronger relationship than the ones that are apart. This principle is applied well to whitespace's grouping or related graphs or KPIs.

Groups of visuals in a dashboard
Use of whitespace for grouping

3. Increase content legibility/comprehension. Whitespace between your visuals will help people understand what they are looking at; reducing clutter will support your users to focus on the message you are trying to give by improving legibility.

3.1 Legibility in narratives: Each day it is more common to find AI generated narratives in dashboards; here we need to pay special attention to the whitespace between lines and paragraphs.

Two pieces of text with different whitespace.
Whitespace use for content legibility

3.2 Legibility in Tables. Similarly to plain text, it is very important leaving enough space between the rows of our tables, the result will be a more enjoyable and understandable table.

Final Words.

Many dashboard designers believe whitespace equals wasted space; this couldn't be farther from reality, as whitespace will bring harmony and balance to our dashboards. Your users will better understand your message due to increased legibility and order. And like apples, enough and well-used space will end up with a more appealing-looking and tasty product.


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