Last week my boss and I did some collaboration which we haven’t done in a while. It’s always nice to work with somebody, so I can hear how they think or approach problems. She’s working on revamping her budget model and I’m doing some research on some of her questions. I’m also working on some aspect of automation so that her work is not so onerous.
In the process of revamping the budget file, she decided she didn’t like the look of her file. I think the impetus of her dissatisfaction was looking at another department’s file. I’ve been there: I look at someone else’s work and then I look at mine and then I would hate mine. I had thought mine was great up until the point when I see something better. Now she didn’t say that she hated her file but that she just was not happy with it. I can empathize with her and I’ve been there too many times.
Her dissatisfaction was with the look of the file, so we spent time analyzing the other department’s file to see what they were doing that was making their file look “clean”. I used to work on this problem a long time ago, over 10 years ago, and for a period of a couple of years thereafter I tried to make the Excel files look simpler, more visually enticing and yet provide better information at a glance. I’ve gotten away from it in the last few years as I worked on other types of problems.
Making the spreadsheet “pretty” does bring up the question of: are we wasting our time? If the design helps you better understand the information, I would say no, you are not wasting time. Even if a pretty file just helps ease your eyes, I would say the effort is worth it.
So now we are back to visual communications.
There are a lot of sites/articles on the web that talk about how to make your spreadsheets more visually appealing so I won’t go into that. Instead I will just list out the changes we made and then provide two visual examples.
We basically focused on:
- limiting the color range to about two with one of colors having different values
- muting the colors
- changing the font to sans serif
- getting rid of the grid lines
- and adding lots of white space to clear out the clutter.
Here’s some before and after examples:
Here’s one that I had to work with when I first started at my last company – it was just columns after columns of data:
And here’s what I came up to make it easier to use. You will have to scroll over to the right to really see what I did. All formulas are stripped out: