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Making Your Charts Attractive But Still Functional

The vast majority of charts are vaguely box shaped. There are of course exceptions, such as pie charts and gauges, but overall most charts are based on a right-angled framework of two axes. If you have decided upon a dashboard that makes use of quite a few charts of this overall shape, you might find that your entire dashboard ends up looking a little bit clunky and square.

In previous posts I have discussed how distracting graphics and crazy colour schemes can make even the most informative dashboard appear cluttered and unintelligible, but that is not to say that some simple formatting techniques cannot be employed. There is actually a very simply technique to softening the angular appearance of these charts, which won’t obstruct the data or make them any less efficient.

If you visualise a very basic dashboard with a clear white background and some charts superimposed on it, you will mostly likely find this image cold, unattractive and spartan. The same applies to a slightly lesser degree to a dashboard with a black background, or indeed any given colour. What you essentially have is a blank page containing charts. However using Excel’s built-in drawing features you can give a dashboard of this kind a much more integrated and organic appearance, with each of the elements fitting together nicely.

What many people do not realise is that they can draw a shape on their dashboard and superimpose a chart on top of it. For example a coloured square can be used to provide a nice background for a single chart, or a combination of shapes can be used to create a simple but elegant backdrop to one a more related charts. Of course the chart must be created first, and its colour scheme chosen so that it is fully legible when placed on its backdrop. Then a shape can be selected from the ‘Insert’ menu in Excel, and formatted as per requirements. Multiple shapes can be added using drag and drop. Once everything is finished the chart can be dragged into place on top of the backing shape.

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