Charting I – Professional charts, made easy

A few posts ago when I described the work we did in the area of “great looking documentsâ€, I mentioned charting.  I am going to spend the next week or two covering charting in detail.  For this first two posts, I want to cover how we have used the ribbon to make it possible, with no more than 3-4 clicks, to create a wide variety of professional-looking charts.

When talking to customers about charting in Excel, one of the big pieces of feedback we hear is how hard it is to make a chart that looks ready to publish. Generally, users aren’t graphic designers or experts in information visualization, yet they still want a result that looks professional and communicates their information effectively.  With advent of the ribbon, we have a new UI design approach – results-oriented design (which is discussed in a blog post here).  In a nutshell, the idea is to give users a couple of reasonable choices for professional designs, then allow them to mix and match those choices into a professional document.  While we’ll still give users access to the detailed features that make their documents look good, they should be able to get close to a final result in just a few clicks.  To that end, chart creation in Office 2007 can be as simple as making four straightforward choices that give users access to a vast range of possibilities.  The four choices are: what type of chart they want, how they want the elements on that chart laid out, how they want their chart formatted, and what document theme they would like to use. I’ll talk about two of these choices in this post, and the other two choices in the next post.

Chart Types

In current versions of Excel, when a user creates a chart, the first thing they need to do is select the type of chart – column, line, scatter, pie, surface, and etc. In Excel 2007, we’ve made the variety of chart types available a lot more visible, and we have offered help for users to choose between them.  To insert a chart, a user would start with the Insert tab.  Excel 2007 has an insert chart type “group†(7 related controls) on the ribbon’s insert tab. This makes it easy to pick a chart type, with large icons and tooltips that describe when to use a particular type.

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Note that we have provided galleries for the most common chart types – column, line, pie, bar, area, and scatter – with the remaining chart types surfaced in a 7th gallery.  For those who want to browse through the full list of chart types, or change the type of an existing chart, the Create Chart dialog makes it easier to explore the list of chart types and pick the one you want.

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And for those who love shortcut keys, Alt+F1 will now create a chart object with the default chart type, while F11 still creates a chart sheet with the default chart type.

Although we do hear many customer requests for new chart types, unfortunately we weren’t able to add any in Office 2007. We’re not yet planning the next version of Office in depth, but no doubt that will be considered again, as this is another area where we hear a lot of feedback.

Chart Layouts

Once a user has chosen a chart type, there are a variety of charting features that can help the user communicate their data effectively.  In previous versions of Excel, these are scattered around through a variety of dialog boxes, making it hard for all but the most diligent users to take advantage of the settings.  For Office 2007, we studied a massive number of charts that we found in publications, books, and Excel spreadsheets to determine the most common combinations of chart elements such as titles, legend, data table, etc.  From this, we created a gallery of predefined chart layouts (e.g. combinations of chart elements) that can be applied with one click.  Here is what the gallery looks like for a bar chart

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And here is what the galleries look like for a few other chart types.  Note that each chart type has its own unique set of chart layouts.

Line Quick Layouts

Pie Quick Layouts

Scatter Quick Layouts

I have not included the pictures of the chart layouts for all the chart types, but I’ve tried to include those for most of the more popular chart types.  We have tried to included layouts for the sorts of charts we are commonly asked about.  For example, there’s a chart layout designed for making histograms – the third choice in the second row of the column chart layouts.  There’s a chart layout designed for making sparklines – the first choice in the third row of the line chart layouts.  There’s a chart layout designed for making pie charts with labelled slices instead of a legend.  Each chart layout is a useful high-quality chart which presents data in a different way.  We are still refining the set of chart layouts and their icons, so expect some changes before Office 2007 is done.