Better Excel charts

Just got a comment from one of our readers: "I like what you have to say, but I had a hard time reading your post on the Excel charts, because that picture made me want to turn away."

Well, it doesn’t have to be that bad. We put together an alternative set of default charts that are a little more pleasing to look at.

What did we do? First we picked some colors that would offer contrast, without being scarring to the eyes. Then we went on a "chartjunk" killing spree. Chartjunk is an Edward Tufte term that describes all the stuff in charts that adds no value, distracts from the data, and promotes confusion. For us, chartjunk includes the borders on the chart and around bars or columns, background colors, and even some axes. Gridlines are borderline: they offer modest value in helping a viewer see the height of bars -- we typically change them to an unobtrusive light grey. It takes a lot of clicks to fix up a chart to the Juice-approved format.

Clean Excel bar chart
Bubble chart
Column chart
The very desirable column+second axis line chart
Pie chart
Stacked column + line chart

Excel has a nice feature that lets you save new chart formats. It’s simple (if a little hidden): After you make a good-looking chart, click on Chart/Chart Type/Custom Types, then the "User Defined" radio button. Choose "Add" and name your new chart. Or, if you like the formats you see here, download our user defined graphs. Simply (I say that so you don’t get scared) drop this file into the folder at C:\Documents and Settings\UserName\Application Data\Microsoft\Excel. Maybe you can make a few more and send them back.

One more thing: We made just seven chart types (column, bar, line, column with line on two axes, pie, scatter, bubble). I’m convinced that this set can cover 98% of your charting needs. While Microsoft may offer up donut charts instead of pies and cones instead of columns, please don’t bite on those.