Chapter 15

Ten Chart Design Principles

I’m the first to admit, I’ve created my share of poorly designed charts — bar charts with every color known to man, line charts with ten or more lines slapped on top of each other, and pie charts with slices so thin they melded into a blob of black ink. When I look at these early disasters, I feel the shame of a baby boomer looking at pictures of himself in white bell-bottom jeans.

Excel makes charting so simple that it’s often tempting to accept the charts it creates no matter how bad the default colors or settings are. But I’m here to implore you to turn away from the glitzy lure of the default settings. You can easily avoid charting fiascos by following a few basic design principles.

In this chapter, I share a few of these principles and help you avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made in the past. (No thanks needed.)

Avoid Fancy Formatting

Excel makes it easy to apply effects that make everything look shiny, glittery, and oh-so-pretty. Now don’t get me wrong, these new graphics are more than okay for charts created for sales and marketing presentations. However, when it comes to dashboards, you definitely want to stay away from them.

Remember that a dashboard is a platform to present your case with data. Why dress up your data with superfluous formatting when the data itself is the thing you want to get across? It’s like making a speech in a Roman general’s uniform. How well will you get your point across when your audience is thinking, ...

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