Monday, February 20, 2012

no more excuses for bad simple charts: here's a template

If you're using Excel to try to tell a story with data, plotting the data in this application should be the first step in your data visualization process, not your last. It takes time, iterations, and sometimes some brute force to get from the graphing application's defaults to a visual that you're proud to present.

I've often given others the advice to create a template in Excel that has some of the obvious things done and use that as a starting point instead of starting from scratch each time. But to be honest, I've never followed this advice myself. Even though I think I probably should. There are those little things that I do every single time I use Excel: change the colors, remove the gridlines, move around and de-emphasize the axis labels, and so forth. None of these steps alone take much time, but when you put them all together and figure that I do them for every graph I make...this all sums up to a big time save to start from a place that is different than Excel's defaults.

So, to try to finally follow my own advice, I've put together a long overdue template with some sample graphs that you can find here (screenshot below if you want to get a sneak peak prior to downloading). Perhaps in addition to eliminating some of my personal Excel time-suck, this will help alleviate some pain for you as well? (Note: I created this in Excel for Mac 2011, but am hopeful the formatting will come across on a PC as well.) Give it a try and let me know what you think!


  1. This is awesome, Cole - thanks for sharing! No issues opening with Excel 2010 for PC.

  2. Very good post Cole, already kept your template as the guide for making graphs from excel... Thanks!

  3. Seems to open fine in Numbers as well ...

  4. Great template! Thank you for sharing Cole!

  5. Great template! I love the idea of having a template in Excel!

  6. Thank you so much for sharing your tips! This will be extremely helpful for minimizing my frustration with the built-in features (that I, too, have been changing every time instead of creating a template!).

  7. Cole,

    Great post. Another in a great series of tips. Thanks for sharing.


  8. Cole,

    Great template. One minor thing I would change is the y-axis label. I am guilty of this as well in things I've created in my past, often thinking I don't have the room to make it fit horizontally. The reality is that in almost every case there is a way to make it fit without taking too much room or making it distracting. For me the best practice of not rotating text outweighs the alternatives so I really try hard to avoid it now. Please continue the great work!

  9. Cole,

    great post! Thanks.

    If you would like to get to know some really sofisticated chart templates in Excel, have a look here please:
    or here: