Badly displayed Excel data will lose both impact and meaning. It’s vital to present your data clearly to make it more convincing. Here are 8 easy ways to make your financial charts simple, beautiful and effective.
Tip #1: Always pick the right chart type
Before you start tweaking design elements, you need to make sure that your data is displayed in the optimal format. Bar, pie, and line charts all convey your data differently, so choose the one that best suits the story you want to tell. Always order your graph in descending or chronological order so it is simple, clear and easy to understand.
Tip #2: Remove unnecessary axes
In the ‘before’ chart below, we use a bar chart for absolute numbers such as net sales and a line to display percentages, for example gross margin. There are two different y-axes, one for the absolute amounts and the other for the percentage. In the ‘after’ chart, you can see that it becomes much clearer when data labels are displayed on the series itself, instead of using both axes. It is easier to understand and there is more space to display the chart itself.
Tip #3: Distribute bars evenly
Excel uses thin bars with wide spacing by default, but the opposite actually works better as it makes it easier to visually compare data. The 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 differentiate between blocks
Aim to differentiate between a period and a series. Do this by minimizing white space in the blocks and between bars, and by making the bars wider.
Tip #4: Remove background lines
As you can see below, there is a massive difference between the ‘before’ and ‘after’ Waterfall charts due to slight changes in design.
Graphs should allow you to roughly compare data within a set. No one is 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 can be distracting, so removing them will help people focus on the most important parts of your chart.
With UpSlide’s Charts feature it takes just one click to create a Waterfall chart with your branding colors and design. The Charts button automates all the steps you would normally take to build a Waterfall chart in Excel.
Tip #5: Remove unnecessary styling
Most standard Excel graphs come pre-styled, however, these styles aren’t optimized for communicating information.
Rather than using a variety of different colors, stick to the color that is most synonymous with your brand to make your data really 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 for displaying secondary elements (see below the vertical lines) and they too should be in the color of your visual identity.
See this example of a valuation method comparison chart:
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 Color / Dashes / Width
Tip #6: Never use 3D effects
To make data look 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 perspective of what the data actually reads. Don’t let poor design weaken your argument!
How 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”.
Tip #7: Clean your financial chart
When you have many data points, you should avoid using markers – it is much better to add an average, minimum or maximum to make your data easier to understand. Consider removing the background lines that distract from understanding the most important elements.
Tip #8: Always remain consistent
The area chart is the best option for when you want to show the comparison of elements changing over time.
In the example below, you can see the stock composition changing over three fiscal years. We used only one color hue from our visual identity, and we will stick to it in the following pages of our report so our readers can associate this color with other charts about stock. Have specific colors for 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 Colors in Excel:
- Grab the HEX color code of your brand 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
Bonus tip: Format your financial charts, tables and graphs with a single click
For 78% of finance professionals, it is a prerequisite for deliverables to comply with their graphic charter, according to a study lead by CSA and UpSlide.
It can be very time consuming to apply the right style, the right colors and the right font to each one of your Excel charts.
That is why we developed a tool to instantly apply your graphic charter to tables and charts on Excel with a single click: the Smart Format.
“The Smart Format tool has been key in empowering teams to create brand-compliant reports, quickly and easily. Before UpSlide, we’d have to painstakingly update graphs and tables to comply with our brand guidelines. With UpSlide, we can apply our brand formatting to any graph or table with a single click. I love it!”Tiana Griffiths, Platform Manager – Valuation & Advisory Services, Colliers
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