#216 Down with ugly charts

How to give your charts a much needed make-over

The default charts generated by Excel are UGLY. Yes! U-G-L-Y There I’ve said it; I hope you don’t take it personally but the first step in making things better is to admit you have a problem. And if you use these default charts, you do have a problem.

Before we begin our make-overs, we need to back up a step to ensure you’re creating the right kind of chart in the first place. After all, the best looking chart in the world isn’t any good if nobody understands what you’re trying to illustrate or if you’ve put so much data on it that it’s more confusing than helpful.

Learn more about how to choose the right type of chart.

Chart Chooser:

Chart Chooser is a nice tool that can help you determine what type of chart you need. Use the filters on the left to find the appropriate type of chart for your data. Once you’ve found the right one, you can even download a sample as an Excel or PowerPoint template and insert your own data.

Quick Fix:

The quickest and easiest way to fix your existing charts is use Juice Analytics’ Excel add-in called Clean Charts. Using this handy tool is pretty simple. Once you’ve followed their instructions to get it setup, you’ll have a new option under the format menu to “Clean this chart…” (if a chart is selected) or “Clean all charts…” (if none are selected).

The resulting wizard will help you fix a number of issues with the default charts including:

» Remove “chart-junk”
(the contrast-reducing light grey background on most Excel charts, extraneous lines, etc.)

» Formats the axes with easy to read numeric formats
(22000 becomes “22k”)

» Changes series colors to an optimally chosen set that are designed for maximum contrast and readability

» Removes 3D from the chart.
3D charts introduce distortions that make it hard for people to understand your numbers.

» Fixes axis scaling problems.

» Fixes font and marker sizes to make them readable if you have resized your chart

PowerPoint Charts

If you’re ultimate destination for your chart is going to be PowerPoint and you like to have total control over the formatting of your chart, another great trick is to copy your chart from Excel and use the Paste Special… option to get it into PowerPoint. By pasting your chart into PowerPoint as a “Picture (Enhanced Metafile}” you’ll be able to ungroup it and format all the components as individual shapes to get something along these lines.

What do your charts look like? I hope you will join me in the crusade to rid the world of ugly charts? Let me know – I’d love to deputize you and add you to my posse.

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