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This post is brought to you by Chris Doan, a Program Manager on the Graphics team.
What’s the first thing you do with a chart after you’ve inserted it? For many users, it’s modifying the chart to make it look exactly the way you want it to look. Sometimes that means fiddling around with the data, or adding elements like data labels or a trendline, or figuring out how to format the chart to make it look fantastic. Unfortunately, this is a step that many users struggle with. While Excel boasts many powerful features, it can be challenging to know and locate the exact features necessary to format your chart the way you picture it in your mind. With Excel 2013, we made it our mission to simplify this process and to enable users to quickly customize their charts in a few simple clicks.
As a first step, we’ve made some great improvements in our chart insertion experience (which we’ve blogged about here) to help users get off on the right foot. Once you’ve inserted your chart, you’ll notice the new, on-object chart customization buttons that appear near the top right corner of your chart:
These new buttons show up whenever your chart is selected, providing easy access to the most common and useful chart customization features! While the ribbon is still a great place to access all of the robust features that Excel offers, we’ve done a careful inventory of what formatting and customization tools our users take advantage of most frequently, and brought those tools closer to the chart and right at the user’s fingertips. This blog post will focus on the first button, which launches a feature called Chart Elements.
There are many different elements you can add to a chart to help you clarify your data: from axis lines to trendlines, from data labels to data tables. Furthermore, each element has many different options; for example, a trendline can be one of six different trendline types! It can be difficult to keep track of all these elements, what they’re called, what they are, and fully understand which ones work best for your chart. That’s where our new Chart Elements feature comes in:
Clicking on the Chart Elements button will launch a simple and easy-to-use checklist of all the different elements you can add to your chart. Adding and removing any chart element is as easy as a single click! This feature also supports Live Preview, so even if you don’t know what each element is, you can easily preview what the chart would look like with any element added by hovering your mouse on the element. For example, we are Live Previewing a Data Table on this chart by simply hovering the mouse over “Data Table” in the checklist:
The Chart Elements feature also has built-in chart type awareness and will intelligently update itself to provide the most applicable set of options based on the type of chart you are using. The checklist will only show elements that are applicable to your specific chart type – all non-applicable elements will be automatically hidden to reduce confusion and clutter. For example, pie charts do not support axes lines, and area charts do not support trendlines; in both of these cases, the Chart Elements checklist will show only those elements that can be added to pie charts and area charts respectively:
Additionally, even though each element type may have multiple types (e.g. gridlines can be horizontal or vertical, major or minor), the Chart Elements feature will help you determine the most appropriate element type based on the chart type. For example, if you check “Gridlines” on a bar chart, Chart Elements will automatically add major vertical gridlines, whereas checking “Gridlines” on a column chart will automatically add major horizontal gridlines.
However, this doesn’t mean that you are restricted to using only the recommended element type. For our more advanced users who wish to have more control over chart element options, simply mouse over the element and click on the arrow to trigger the fly-out menu to access fine-grained options:
Overall, we hope that our new on-object charting tools will help make the chart customization experience quicker, simpler to understand, and more fun to use! Please try out the new Chart Elements feature, and give us your thoughts and feedback on the experience – we’d love to hear what you think!
Of all the new features in Excel 2013, I like this one best. Customizing charts has always been fairly non-intuitive for non-expert users. This changes things. I also like how easy it is to create combination charts.
Good work, Microsoft. Well, except for that mouse (or touch) only interface in the task pane. That's kind of step backwards.
Making charts easier to style and customize is a great new feature. And being able to quickly try out different chart formats will help people find the best type of chart to convey the information they want. With the recent (and warranted) excitement over infographics, we'll be seeing lots of people turning to charts to present information in ways that connect with audiences. This added attention to the chart tools in Excel 2013 is a fantastic development.
By the way, I just discovered the trick to traversing a task pane with the keyboard: Press F6.
If this is lab is looking at how to get people started in Excel, I wonder if it couldn't be taken in steps rather than being presented with all the options all at once.
Why can't you just start with the elements of a simple chart and then offer additions? The way children in Asia - and adults in the West - learn complicated kanji - starting with simple ones like a square for guchi (mouth) and then a square with a plus sign in it for rice paddy.
So a simple chart would be three years and three numbers. Horizontal line/scale = x axis for year. Vertical line/scale = y axis. Put the years horizontally in the table. Put the measure (e.g., revenues) in the row title. Then you have three numbers to fill in and a bar chart.
Then add years and show a line chart.
Then add profits to revenues and show a chart with two lines or a line and a bar.
Now you have started from scratch and brought someone along. The bells and whistles should be available but not in the way.
Just a thought.