A Few Free Visualization Tools To Use With Excel Spreadsheet:
- Tableau – www.tableau.com (Public and Reader are free downloads, paid products are also available)
- Open Heat Map – openheatmap.com
- DOMO – www.domo.com (Free trial available)
- Microsoft Power BI – powerbi.microsoft.com/en-us/ (free download)
The Point of Excel Spreadsheet Visualization
Excel spreadsheets aren’t as cool as they used to be. As useful as they are for data entry and calculating, all those cells and formulas can be overwhelming. And despite the volume of important information, executives still need to have the story told to them. And you don’t want to hand someone a stack of spreadsheets because you risk not getting the story across.
Most clients approach us with spreadsheets full of data and we use the same analysis process for many of them in order to tell their data story, visually. We collaborate with clients from data to visualized product, but sometimes you don’t have time to engage with a vendor to get the job done.
Where do go when you need to visualize your dense data story using excel as your data source?
Step 1: Start With The Data
First, make sure you spreadsheet is free of errors and well organized. There’s no visualization that can salvage bad data. If you’re uploading it, make sure your Excel spreadsheet formatted correctly. Second, figure out what you’re doing with it. Is it a report or a presentation?
Step 2: Is There a Tool That Can Help?
Before you start anything, make sure you have an understanding of visualization tools. Nowadays, you can find many new excel functions and formulas within the spreadsheet. Both Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets enables users to insert charts. In Google Sheets, you can choose from lines graphs, maps, and other charts. Excel Spreadsheet has PivotTables and PivotCharts for graphs as well as Power View and Power Map for interactive graphing. You can even use templates to reorganize your data into an easier layout. These features are specifically designed to work within the programs to save time.
To explore more options, you can also use free apps and charting libraries (examples posted at the top of the article). In addition there are many other popular programs like R, D3, Google Charts, Chartist, and more that give you more design options. Programs like Tableau allow you to upload a spreadsheet directly (if it’s formatted correctly) and choose from a wide variety of visualizations. Anything beyond charts and infographics require technical knowledge. If it’s within your abilities, you can also build an app or a dashboard that goes beyond a Business Intelligence and/or charting tool.
Step 3: What’s the story?
“The Story” is the focus of your visualization. Spending so much time trying to visualize stats and not focusing on packaging your facts into a complete visual story won’t give you any real actionable insights. Without a clear direction, there’s no foundation and no finished product. Your data story is the main point (a question, an argument, etc) you’re trying to convey that the data will support. Maybe you’re comparing sales performances from different years to show company decline (as an impetus for change) or trying to bring awareness to a non-profit cause (to increase engagement with potential donors). When you create a story, it’s easier to engage with the spreadsheet because you assign meaning to the data. You’ll be able to see the data with new perspective.
A question as simple as “How long does the average person live?” can have many data facts involved, but through proper data story development the abundance of data is less overwhelming as a visual package.
Step 4: Who is my audience?
Who’s going to see your data? Maybe it’s the board of directors, investors, constituents, etc. The data and story needs to make sense to them. How much do they know about the data? Based on what they know (or don’t know) you need to create the right context. A great data story is lost if your audience can’t understand it.
BNY Mellon collected survey results and needed to compile their survey data and be able to create sleek reports. In this case, the automated reporting was designed in such a way to appeal to investors and investment professionals.