This post is brought to you by Scott Ruble a Lead Principal Program Manager on the Excel team.
With the new Microsoft Office release, the Office DataViz team is proud to deliver a rich set of charting capabilities across Excel, Word, PowerPoint, and Project. In fact, because there are so many features, this article will only be an overview. Subsequent articles will go into the specific use cases and steps for each of them.
I’ve been working on Excel charting since the Office 2007 release, when we replaced the charting engine, changed the rendering layer, and enabled charts to run on the server. This was a pretty ambitious release, which set a whole new direction for data visualizations in Office. Since then, I’ve written several blog articles on Excel charting, and many of the reader comments have centered around when we were going to provide feature x, y, or z. I always appreciated these comments because it showed that there was a very passionate community of users who really cared about the charting capabilities in Office.
At the start of the new Microsoft Office product cycle, we spent a lot of time reflecting on all of the great customer feedback that we received over the years. We also visited many customers to better understand their work habits, true pain points, and unmet needs. The simple conclusion we reached was it’s actually pretty challenging for most users to create and customize charts even with basic datasets. As such, the thrust of the Office 2013 release was to significantly lower the bar for creating and customizing charts. So with that, I’d like to take you on a tour of the cool new charting features in Office 2013. The examples here are based on Excel but most of these features are also available in Word, PowerPoint, and Project.
Customers have always struggled with picking the right chart type to represent their data. Typically, they would just use something familiar regardless of whether it was the best one or not. To pick the best chart type, there are actually a fair number of factors that need to be considered based on the data. We have simplified this entire process with one click of the “Chart Recommendations” button in the Insert ribbon. With chart recommendations, we analyze the selected data and, based on a series of heuristics (fancy word for rules), we display a list of chart types appropriate for your data. Also, I will state for the record that you will never see a 3D chart recommended. As cool as these may look, they don’t allow a very accurate interpretation of the data. These 3D chart types are still available but you’ll need to dig for them a bit (location: Insert Chart Dialog > All Charts tab).
We go a step further and show a live preview of how your data looks in each of the chart types. We also assess whether the data has repeating values, such as categories of sales transactions. In these cases, a PivotChart (with the appropriate grouping applied) will be recommended instead of a regular chart. Through this approach we hope to eliminate a lot of the trial and error typically associated with the first step of creating a chart. Oh, and there is one last feature that we snuck in, which I’m sure will get rave reviews: a single series chart will no longer get inserted with a legend!
While in the Insert Chart dialog, you’ll notice that there is an “All Charts” tab. As the name implies, this provides access to all of the chart types – and, again, we show live previews of the data. One of the most common customer questions involves how to create a combo chart (e.g., column & line chart). In the “All Charts” tab we now have a “Combo” category that allows you to easily construct whatever combination of chart types you desire. We also make is super easy to move one of the chart types to the secondary axis which in previous versions would have required an entire blog article by itself to explain how to do that.
After a chart has been created, there is typically some polish needed. On the right of a selected chart, a series of buttons will be displayed. These buttons provide quick access to common operations. The first button (Chart Elements) allows various chart elements, like a title, to be quickly added or removed. Hovering over one of the items shows a live preview on the chart. So, for example, if you don’t know what a data table is, just mouse over it, and see what it looks like. Also, animations smoothly illustrate the transition for any changes made to the chart, such as removing a legend or changing a data point value. The second button (Chart Styles) provides a series of professionally-designed styles. The styles cover a wide range of appearances. Some are minimalistic while others are more intense. You can also select different color schemes to explore various looks. The last button (Chart Filters), allows you to easily add or remove categories and series from the chart. Sometimes extraneous data accidentally gets included in a chart. The Chart Filters allows you with the click of a button to remove those unwanted values, such as a Grand Total, in the example below.
Formatting Task Pane
We’ve also tried to make fine-grain adjustments more fluid. When editing the properties of a chart element, such as a series (double click or ctrl+1), the properties of this element are now surfaced in a task pane. Changing any of the properties shows the result on the chart so you can instantaneously see the affect. You can also quickly jump to different chart elements via the element selector at the top of the task pane. This comes in handy for small items that are otherwise hard to select.
For many releases, customers have been asking for richer ways to label their charts. In Office 2013, we’ve pulled out all the stops. Not only can you change the look of a label to something more interesting like a bubble, but you can also include free-form text and bind values in the label to a specific cell. This is a great way to more fully describe a data point. Also, we have one more killer feature up our sleeve. You can now label XY Scatter charts! Stay tuned for a future article that will go into the details
Rendering charts in a workbook on the server has been around for many releases. However, the fidelity between the client rendering and server rendering wasn’t that great. The server was not able to render a number of formatting options such as shadows, bevels, and a variety of other effects. In Office 2013, the server rendering has been significantly improved for Excel Services and the Web Apps for Excel, Word, and PowerPoint. Now charts on the client with effects look identical on the server.
Data Grid in Word & PowerPoint
In prior versions, the chart data grid in Word and PowerPoint was pretty intrusive. It took up a large part of the screen real estate and laid out the windows in undesirable ways. All of that has been significantly improved in Office 2013. Now the data grid is displayed in a streamlined small input window that floats above the chart. Also convenient controls for undo/redo and opening in Excel are
As I hope you can see, the charting investments in Office 2013 are pretty significant. We think these improvements will go a long way in making it easier to create and customize charts – ultimately improving productivity. Please let us know if you have any additional feedback.