Friday, December 14, 2007

Creating Bold, Professional Excel Charts

Produce Clear, Attractive Charts in Excel

Whether it was at a conference, a business meeting, a Webinar, or over email, chances are you have been forced to look at some very unattractive charts in the course of doing business. Blame it on Excel and its evil stepsister, PowerPoint. These programs give users so many presentation options – column, line, bar, or pie graph, to name a few – that it’s no wonder people have on occasion made some bad choices. In this QuickTip, we’ll show you how to avoid creating eyesores like this:

1.       First off, think about the information you want to convey. This sample chart was made for a company whose gross income grew steadily over the first half of the year, but whose net income dipped in April due to unforeseen expenses. Column charts and line graphs are great for comparing simultaneous trends, so the author made a good decision in selecting a column chart. The mistake was in introducing so many wacky perspectives, shapes, and competing fonts and colors that they obscured the trends in the data.

2.       Just because it’s an option doesn’t mean you should use it. Once you’ve figured out how to access them, it can be tempting to use gradients, fills, borders, and a variety of fonts. But remember that clarity is key, and that clarity depends on simplicity. Don’t use more than one font type, keep colors sedate, and don’t use 3D charts unless they’re really necessary.

3.       If you’re using Excel 2007, trust the default. Some very wise designers have gone in and made the default chart settings soothing and attractive to the eye. Here is the data from the chart above, rendered in default Excel 2007 style:

To create this chart in Excel 2007, follow these simple steps:

1.       Input your data.

2.       Highlight your data, then go to the Insert menu and select the Column button. Select Clustered Column from the drop-down menu.

3.       Your chart will appear. If you want to investigate other chart types, just right-click on the chart.

4.       Select Change Chart Type for other chart options.

Excel 2007 makes charting easier by giving you big, easy buttons to push instead of making you wade through layer after layer of menus. And the default designs mean that you don’t have to be Michelangelo to produce an attractive chart. If you haven’t upgraded to Office 2007, now might be the right time. Get a great start to the New Year! Contact CMIT Solutions to find out more.


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