Chart Elements: Customizing your Chart

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:

Chart customization buttons
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:

Chart elements
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:

Pie and area chart elements 

Pie and area chart elements
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.

Horizontal and vertical 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:

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!

-Chris Doan