Interactive Advanced Excel Chart

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To be honest, I have no idea what to call this kind of chart.

I was inspired by this useful HTML5 readiness tool. As you move the mouse over the rays the index ray follows the mouse pointer so you know which category is which. It's pretty cool.

Crafting this project I learned that there are some chart properties that you can access from the Excel 2007 Format Data Series dialog box that cannot be addressed from VBA; and vice versa.

For lines, you can set the Cap Type under Line Style in the regular interface. You have three choices: Square, Round, and Flat. Under Joint Type, you also have three choices: Round, Bevel, and Miter. Nowhere in the VBA object model can these properties be set. I needed to set the index ray to a Cap Type of Flat in VBA and it cannot be done - so it's round. You would think that you could set it beforehand from the interface - and of course you can - but changing the line color from VBA also changes the Cap Type!

While hunting through the expansive forest of the VBA object model for 2007 charts, I found a couple of interesting objects that are not addressable from dialog boxes - and so 99.99% of Excel 2007 users are likely unaware of them. For chart lines (and some other items) you can set them to glow. You can set the color and the radius of the glow. You can also specify SoftEdges, and I used this on the background darkish ring in this chart. Again, these two interesting settings can only be addressed from VBA.

I don't have Excel 2010 yet. I hope this kind of strange oversight is rectified in the new version.

This chart uses a modified version of Jon Peltier's chart events class, and just like my Eurovision 2009 chart, the interactivity and animation only works when the chart is selected. When you first open the workbook the chart will be selected. But if you click on the worksheet instead of the chart, you will need to click the chart again to reengage the interactivity. Be sure to change the years by clicking on them at the top.

Here's the chart.

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Hmmm. I guess it's impressive that you were able to replicate this graphic. Unfortunately I feel the effort was wasted.

The chart itself is difficult to read, the original more so because its colored boxes are stacked up from the inner surface, while yours stay in their ring, with gray spacing blocks where needed.

The interactivity is required because the chart does not share all of its information (the category labels, like "Drag and Drop") in the overall view.

Very thorough detective work finding all of those hidden formatting options in the object model. Of course, most of those options are better left hidden, else users would think they should be used.

A better display would be a simple table, eight columns (one per browser) and 28 rows (one per feature), plus header row and column, illustrated with a checkmark in each cell if feature A is available in browser B. The reader can compare browsers and features without having to remember which spoke corresponded to which feature, and which browser was filled by which color.

@ Daniel: Beautiful chart, impressively implemented. Again, I'm wowed by the versatility of Excel.

@ Jon: While I respect your opinion and your contributions to the Excel world, I think you may be missing the point here. You are absolutely right that a table with check marks would be easier to read and, therefore, compare the versions. However, I view this (and almost all of Daniels charts) as an exploration of the capabilities of Excel. I liken it to a fashion show. The outrageous outfits that come down the runway may be a little over the top, and you may never find someone wearing it on the street. However, it is those expressions of art that inspire wearable clothing lines. Sounds like you might just prefer a good old fashion pair of jeans.

This goes back to the debate between clarity and visual appeal. I'm not sure that it has to be so black and white. While I can appreciate the importance of representing data as accurately as possible, I believe that it is the attractiveness of charts that help get people to pay attention in the first place. I actually took the time to explore this chart, which I would not have had it been a bland table with check marks.

Again, I respect your opinion greatly, but I think you are perhaps overlooking the importance of presentation. I find Daniels charts to be inspirational and original. Maybe we can learn a few nuggets and implement them to solve real world problems without putting our audience to sleep.

Tom -

Yeah, I'm a PC (with a T-shirt to prove it), and I'm a bit black-and-white when it comes to presentation. As a (former) engineer, this has actually been a good thing.

I did commend Daniel on his detective work to explore the horribly documented object model. I did not look at his version of the chart, but the image posted above the article seems to capture the spirit of the original. Daniel has done a great job on many other visuals: his optical illusion examples are magnificent.

There is a struggle between making a graphic eye-catching and making it informative. In some cases, the author has achieved both, but in the vast majority of cases, eye-catching comes at the expense of informative.

My main point was that the original chart was not at all easy to use. First, it suffered from the radial/circular arrangement, which Stephen Few has discussed in Our Irresistible Fascination with All Things Circular.

Second, this chart forces the user to interact with it to identify visible features. If interaction uncovers more detailed information, for example by drilling down into the data, that is worthwhile. If the interaction is needed to identify such basic information as the categories represented by each spoke, you are forcing the reader to work too hard to figure it out.


Thanks for the reply - I hope you didn't take any of my comments as an insult. Again, I really respect your perspective and your skills in Excel.

And you are absolutely right that the chart is not very efficient at delivering data, and it is a thin line to walk between eye-catching and informative. I find that by exploring the extremes I am better able to reconcile them and produce charts and tables that are attractive and informative (which is why I visit your site,, and Excel Hero every day).

I am always looking for ways to make my data presentations more appealing to viewers, and admittedly, I may place too much value in this. However, I do think it helps to capture the audience's attention, and I will continue to hone my skills at finding the right balance.

Thanks for the dialog!



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This page contains a single entry by Daniel Ferry published on May 24, 2010 2:24 PM.

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