Now that you understand the theory about how important white space can be, let’s get down to practice in the field of data visualization. In graphs and infographics, we can identify two types of white space that we will discuss in the next part of this article:

  • Macro white spaces are all the spaces surrounding the main part of your graph — that’s to say, where the heart of the action takes place
  • Micro white spaces are all the interstitial spaces, for example between two letters of text, between digits and axes, between two graph lines or bars

To put it more graphically, I gathered data about the evolution of fertility rates between 2009 and 2019 in the ten largest economies based on nominal GDP (Gross Domestic Product). You can find the source of the data set I used here on the website of Our World in Data. Let me first present you a not so optimal version of this graph:

Figure 3 — © Marie Lefevre

The figure below highlights the macro (in blue) and the micro (in red) white spaces in this graph:

Figure 4 — © Marie Lefevre

In a previous article, I explored how playing with colors can influence the meaning of the same graph. Here, let’s explore together how playing with the white space of a graph can have a significant impact on two key aspects of data visualization: the readability of the graph and the effectiveness of the message conveyed.

First, adding some macro white spaces around the graph will give your graph room to breathe. When included in a research paper or an article, adding macro white space ensures that your graph is adequately integrated into your body text. By the way, you can notice how I apply this piece of advice throughout this whole article, especially when intentionally adding white space in the figures above. Adding some micro white spaces between lines here will have an impact on your reader: increasing the space between two countries makes it easier for the reader to better distinguish data from 2009 vs. 2019 for each country separately (see figure 5).

Figure 5 — © Marie Lefevre

Second, let’s focus on how white space can support the message that the graph’s author wants to convey. In my example, let’s assume that I want to highlight the top 3 countries in the list — for example, because I am particularly interested in comparing the top 3 countries according to different indicators (total population, GDP, balance of trade, etc.). In this case, adding a wider space between the third country and the fourth one will…

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