Regular readers know that English is not my mother language , but are kind enough to forgive me for my many mistakes.

I am always willing to learn. Today, while researching for an upcoming post, I came across an expression  I never heard before: “spiffy charts”. I felt in love with “spiffy charts” the moment I read it. And I read it straight from the horse’s mouth (I mean Microsoft).

If you don’t know how to make a chart and are keen to preserve that blissful ignorance, I highly recommend Microsoft Office Online Training, specially the module Create a professional looking chart (regular readers also know how I love “professional-looking charts“). You’ll learn how to “customize your charts to make them more attractive, memorable, and effective“. This means useless charts.

So, let’s see how to turn a humdrum (this is a new word, too…) chart into a spiffy one. First, to declutter your chart remove grid lines:

Ugly Excel bar charts

As you know, grid lines are useless, specially if you don’t care about the data. I would remove the gray background and the border around the legend. And I’d give the chart a more descriptive title to tell the users what they are seeing, but that’s my personal taste.

Then you should remove the y-axis and add labels to each column, further “decluttering” the chart. At this point the readers start sighing for a nicely designed chart table.

Ugly Excel bar charts

Want to give your chart a little more “flair” and make them more “professional-looking”? Just add a gradient fill and a subtle shadow:

Ugly Excel bar charts

Now comes the spiffy part. Imagine that you have a 3D column chart with two series, and one obscures the other. What do you do? No, you can’t remove the stupid 3D effect (remember: you want to make t spiffy chart, not a humdrum one). Well, all you have to do is to change the order of the series:

Ugly Excel 3D bar charts

Much better now, don’t you think? They accept that 3D charts “can be more attractive, but sometimes more difficult to read accurately” (surprise, surprise!). Apparently that’s a detail in the grand scheme of things. You are excused from making accurate charts if you are making professional-looking ones.

So, what else can you do to improve your chart? Ah, yes: the y-axis in a humdrum column chart always starts at zero. We don’t want that, do we?

Ugly Excel bar charts

Now you know how to make inaccurate, professional-looking, spiffy-with-a-flair marmalade charts. Please go straight to the kitchen, make some real marmalade and forget all you’ve learned about data visualization in the Microsoft Office Online Training.

(This is not a real Microsoft Office Training site, is it? It must be some kind of spoof site, and I fell for that trick. Right? Right?)

Sigh…