If you display data poorly, the meaning of your data is more likely to get lost. It is vital to be able to clearly visualise your words and thoughts with your data to be more convincing. UpSlide presents 8 easy ways to make your finance charts simple, beautiful and effective! Thanks to UpSlide Product Expert, Jules Touya, for his help on this post. We have also created an Excel file for you to download containing all the before and after charts we have displayed here, if you scroll to the end of this post.
Before you start tweaking design elements, you need to know that your data is displayed in the optimal format. Bar, pie, and line charts all tell different stories about your data, you need to choose the best one to tell the story you want. Always order your graph from biggest to smallest, or in chronological order so it is simple, easy and clear to understand.
In the before chart below we use a bar chart for absolute numbers like net sales and we use a line to display percentages like gross margin. There are two different y axes, one for the absolute amounts and the other for the percentage. In the after chart, you see that it is much clearer to display data labels on the series itself, instead of using both axes. It is easier to understand and there is more space to display the chart itself.
Distribute bars evenly
By default, we have thin bars and wide spaces in Excel, but for the best design and understanding of your charts we need the opposite. The actual bars should be wider, and the distance between the bars narrower.
How to fix gap width in Excel:
Right Click on Series
Choose Format Data Series
Click on Gap Width, you want less white space but enough to see the difference between blocks
Minimise white space in the blocks and in-between the bars but make the bars wider – the aim is to differentiate between a period and a series.
Remove background lines
As you can see with the Waterfall chart below, there is a massive difference before and after due to slight changes in design.
Graphs allow you to roughly compare data within a set, not dig into it. No one’s looking at your graph to see incremental differences between data points — they want to see general, overarching trends.
To help people focus on those trends, remove the lines in the background of your chart. These lines are superfluous, unhelpful, and distracting — cut them from your graph to help people focus on the big takeaways.
With UpSlide‘s Smart Format it takes just one click to create a Waterfall chart with your branding colours and design. All the steps you would normally take in Excel are automated.
Remove unnecessary styling
Most standard Excel graphs come pre-styled — but these styles will often get in the way of communicating information.
Rather than using a variety of different colours, stick to one colour that is most synonymous with your brand, to really make your data stand out! In this example below, it’s much better to have vertical lines as you can see the minimum and maximum of the valuation range. Dashes are a good option to display secondary elements (here vertical lines) and they definitely look better in the colour of your visual identity.
This is a chart used for valuation methods when assessing the value of a company.
How to add Dashed Vertical Lines
Right Click and remove horizontal lines (y axis gridline)
Select x axis
Right Click – Add Major Gridlines
Select Gridline and then Format Colour/Dashes/Width
Never use 3D Effects
To make data look extra fancy, people will often make bar, line, and pie graphs 3D — but it actually just makes the data harder to read. Because of the way the data is tilted, it gives the reader a skewed sense of what the data actually means. Since you’re using data to tell a broad story, you don’t want to weaken your argument due to poor design.
To remove the 3D styling from your graphs, double-click on the bars, lines, or pie sections you’d like to change
Choose “3D Format“
Set “Top” and “Bottom” to “None.”
Clean your chart
When you have many periods, you shouldn’t use a marker – it is much better to add an average, min or max to make your data easier to understand. Think also about removing the background lines that distract you from understanding the most important elements.
Focus on design and style
This area chart is best when you want to show the comparison of elements changing over time.
In the example below, we are showing the stock composition changing over three fiscal years. We used only one colour hue from our visual identity and we will stick to it in the following pages of our report so our readers can link this colour to other charts about stock. Have specific colours linked to specific KPIs throughout your report or presentation whenever your visual identity allows it.
Design-wise: remove redundant labels, get rid of shadows and use white spaces between series.
How to use your Brand Colours in Excel:
Grab the HEX color code of your brand’s colors.
Put that code into this HEX –> RBG color converter.
Under “Fill,” choose “Color” > “More Colors.”
In the popup window, select the second icon from the left with the sliders.
Choose “RGB Sliders,” then input the RGB numbers you found in the beginning
We have also created an Excel file for you to download containing all the before and after charts we have displayed here; Clustered Column, Stacked Bar, Clustered Column & Curve, Area, Football Field, Stock Exchange and Waterfall. You can input your data into the Excel File directly…
Any other tips and tricks for Microsoft Excel? Comment below, we would love to include them!
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