Open your Excel Application and Plead for Forgiveness

Gramener’s Richie Lionell writes in de­fense of Excel

Image Courtesy:

I come from a tribe whose first brushes with data visu­al­iz­a­tion began with Excel. It all star­ted when my former boss in early 2011 said, “Have you heard of charts that fit in­to an Excel cell? Please can you find out what that is all about?” In-Cell charts were an eye-opener but thank­fully my eyes were also opened to what one could do with shapes, col­ors & tweaked charts. The world of Python, D3.js, design & story telling then beckoned me and it was hard to res­ist. I took the plun­ge but in the over­flow of joy that fol­lowed I haven’t left Excel be­hind.

Excel????? – People cringe and then I show them a few un­con­ven­tion­al visu­als we’ve cre­ated us­ing Excel;

Visualizing Dry Days in India – 1977 to 2005

A 0.5 grid Lat-Long weather map of India we cre­ated on Excel cells – sup­por­ted by VLOOKUP, IFERROR, a scroll­bar & con­di­tion­al format­ting – is a ma­jor draw at our Dataviz train­ings. It is a visu­al­iz­a­tion of dry days in every 0.5 de­gree Lat-Long grid from 1977 to 2005. No im­ages or shapes were used. Yup, no VBA too & cre­ated us­ing Excel 2010.

How about us­ing Excel for some story telling? This one is the story of Hollywood stars, the data com­ing from an Excel table.

Story Telling through Excel

No, the pic­tures of the celebrit­ies are not im­ages. They are Dingbat fonts (Ever wondered the use for Webdings & Wingdings?). No VBA here too, just the usu­al sus­pects – VLOOKUP, IFERROR – and a bunch of ra­dio but­tons.

Here’s a sim­u­la­tion of a chess game (Dingbats again).

Simulating a Chess Game in Excel

You can do all of the above us­ing Excel 2007. Yes, you read that right. Now open your Excel ap­plic­a­tion and plead for for­give­ness. With this new­found re­spect for Excel you can now learn how to Visualize Sensex re­turns in Excel.

Gramener’s Data Visualisation workshop for students of NID, Bangalore

Gramener or­gan­ised a design work­shop at the National Institute of Design (NID), Bangalore a few weeks back. The one-day ses­sion was or­gan­ised for the 2nd year stu­dents of Master of Design (M. Des.) course spe­cial­ising in ‘Information Design’. The work­shop was on “Visual data rep­res­ent­a­tion & design of ef­fect­ive Business Dashboards”. This was handled by Ganes Kesari B, Head of Design & Analytics at Gramener.

The ses­sion in­tro­duced the fun­da­ment­als of data visu­al­isa­tion by present­ing a frame­work for visu­al con­sump­tion of data. The ef­fect­ive mod­es of in­form­a­tion design were re­viewed by un­der­stand­ing prin­ciples of hu­man cog­ni­tion and how hu­mans pro­cess in­form­a­tion. The mod­ule on data ana­lys­is fa­mil­i­ar­ised the par­ti­cipants with ba­sic tech­niques of ex­plor­at­ory data ana­lys­is and ex­trac­tion of un­usu­al, in­ter­est­ing in­sights.

Visualisation was stud­ied by break­ing it down in­to the con­stitu­ent ele­ments and look­ing at the ba­sic list of visu­al en­cod­ings like po­s­i­tion, col­or, shape, angle etc. Other im­port­ant con­cepts covered in­cluded the gram­mar of graph­ics, fun­da­ment­als of in­form­a­tion present­a­tion, and prin­ciples of build­ing visu­al­iz­a­tion dash­boards. The con­cepts were covered by dis­tilling the learn­ings from stal­warts in the field like Edward Tufte, Stephen Few and Ben Schneiderman among­st oth­ers.

Finally, the learn­ings were put to prac­tice through a live in­dustry case-study where­in the stu­dents at­temp­ted to fol­low the en­tire data visu­al­isa­tion li­fe­cycle with the provided data ex­er­cise. The stu­dents show ex­cep­tion­al in­terest and did a great job of as­sim­il­at­ing the learn­ings and rap­idly ap­ply­ing them by fol­low­ing the sug­ges­ted visu­al­isa­tion pro­cess flow: re­quire­ments re­view – use case pri­or­it­isa­tion – data ana­lys­is – design con­cep­tu­al­isa­tion – fi­nally the com­plete solu­tion present­a­tion.

The thirst for know­ledge and quest to un­der­stand in­dustry prac­tices was evid­ent with the vol­ley of ques­tions through the day, which were around areas in­clud­ing:

  • Roles avail­able for Information design in the field of Data sci­ence and the mix of skills needed, from among­st a com­bin­a­tion of do­main, math, stats, cre­ativ­ity and visu­al design
  • Visualisation en­gage­ment li­fe­cycle fol­lowed in the in­dustry and the prac­tic­al chal­lenges en­countered in re­quire­ments & design ideation
  • Importance of data & ex­plor­at­ory ana­lys­is pri­or to em­bark­ing on the in­form­a­tion design jour­ney
  • Addressing age-old is­sues of bridging gaps between design & de­vel­op­ment trans­la­tion, while present­ing in­form­a­tion
  • How one can ad­opt a user-centred design pro­cess to en­sure that the solu­tion meets user ex­pect­a­tions
  • Toolsets used to cre­ate stun­ning visu­al­isa­tions, and how ad­op­tion level in the in­dustry to un­con­ven­tion­al and new­er, cre­at­ive gen­res of in­form­a­tion present­a­tion

This ses­sion was a part of the on­go­ing in­dustry out­reach ini­ti­at­ives, un­der the part­ner­ship between Gramener and NID, Bangalore. As part of the part­ner­ship there are in­ter­ac­tions and work­shops sched­uled for the stu­dents around the areas of Data Visualisation, Information Design and Cartographic visu­al rep­res­ent­a­tions.