SSRS non-ugly #4: Think About Layout

Dataviz / SSRS

SSRS non-ugly #4: Think About Layout

In the fourth, fifth and sixth parts of my series about non-ugly SSRS reports, I'll provide some hands-on 'wins' to improve your report layout. Today: two quick wins.

For those of you keeping an eye on my blog for this series - sorry to have kept you waiting! I've had a few busy weeks[ref]Basically I'm married now with a cum laude  MSc Health Psychologist - lucky me. Of course I couldn't help but create some dataviz for her excellent Master's thesis. I toyed around somewhat in piktochart - the results aren't exactly the best dataviz ever, but I'm planning to post a quick review of the toolkit someday.[/ref], followed by a change of employer and December, which is always busy on it's own. But reading excuses is not why you're on this page - on topic: Creating non-ugly SSRS reports.


Chances are you have driven on a road this week - where the lines consist of evenly sized lines, parking spaces on one parking lot are almost all the same size. The high level of consistency in layout makes you don't have to think about the individual appearance of a dash, but can interpret their function and easily divide the way into lanes, and the parking lot into spaces.

Because the individual dashes are consistently sized and spaced, you don't see them as individual dashes anymore (image from Flickr by Dmitriy)

In the same way, laying out your report in a consistent way greatly enhances its usability: by having an easily readable structure, your report will provide some 'rest' for your eyes. The structure won't distract you, so you can easily focus on what matters: the content.

IMHO layout is the hardest part for us report developers to think of. We're so used to our report (we built every single part of it), we're almost wired to focus on the separate report elements, questioning: "How does this chart look?" or "Is the data clearly visible in this table?". It's time now to take a step back, and look to your report as a whole.

In order to enhance the layout of reports in an more or less easy way, I've chosen to split this subject into four 'wins'. Today: two quick wins for improving your report looks.

Quick win #1: web looks

In order to create a report with more visual impact, one trick I often use is to create a darker background color, and add the 'items' (charts, tables etc.) inside white-colored rectangles. This way of categorizing the different 'panes' on your screen is often used in websites (think WordPress admin, Twitter, Facebook), and gives your reports a modern 'websitey' look. Heck, even the Windows 10 'tiles' work this way! It's a modern subsitute for borders around your charts[ref]another substitute - more popular in printing - is to just add more spacing around your visualizations / report elements[/ref]. Don't forget to provide enough margin between the border of the rectangle and your content!

Quick win web look

Quick win #2: A3 sizing

A second little-work much-impact change is to change the default report area. I usually choose double the page size. In almost all countries except the U.S., Canada and Mexico this is easy: the A series of paper have an aspect ration of 1:1.41 (or ). That means when A4 is the default page size for printing (it usually is), you can safely choose A3 as your default SSRS report size: landscape A3 isn't only the size of two portrait A4-pages next to each other, but also has exactly the same aspect ratio. This allows us to scale and print an A3-sized report to an A4-sized paper. Moreover, often this results in a much crisper looking print! Be sure to verify whether your texts are still readable on printed reports though.

Conclusion: Layout?!

Wait, I said I was giving some quick wins for layout, didn't I? How does the above relate to that? Glad you asked[ref]Yes, I copied that from Andy Leonard[/ref]!

It's a preface.

Creating a decent report layout is much easier when you've got some tools to separate report elements from each other in a good-looking way ('web looks') and have got enough screen estate for your report (and still KIPS[ref]Keep It Printable, Sweetheart[/ref]) using A3 sizing.

So stay tuned, for the next two posts will appear soon right here!

  1. The thorough win: the nitty griddy details
  2. The hard-work-pays-off win: aligning matrices

Series: SSRS non-ugly

  1. SSRS non-ugly #1: Use of Typography and fonts
  2. SSRS non-ugly #2: Formatting Tables
  3. SSRS non-ugly #3: Chart Styles
  4. SSRS non-ugly #4: Think about Layout
  5. SSRS non-ugly #5: The Nitty Griddy Details
  6. SSRS non-ugly #6: Hard Work Pays Off: Aligning Matrices