Wrapping up new visualizations – icon sets

The final visualization that we added to Excel 12 has the working title “icon sets”.  As the name implies, this feature allows users to put icons in cells based on the values of the cell.  These are in some ways similar to data bars and colour scales, so much of what I have covered in previous posts (here and here) applies to icon sets as well.  The key difference is that users can specify a number of categories for their data (between 3 and 5 categories), choose a set of icons that they want to appear in the cells for each category, and Excel determines the categorization of each cell relative to all cells in the selected range and draws the appropriate icon in the each of the cells.  This is very effective when you are trying to annotate and present data in a way that is quickly readable and comprehensible. 

Here are some examples.  First, here is an example of some red-yellow-green icons in a range of data:

(Click to enlarge)

Second, here is an example of a range of data with 4 arrows in different directions and colors:

(Click to enlarge)

Third, here is an example of a data set that has five different categories grouped using a circle that is empty-through-filled (sort of like the phases of the moon):

(Click to enlarge)

In the same way as data bars and colour scales, users can set the value for each of the different categories in an icon set using numbers, percent, percentiles, and formulas.  By default, Excel 12 uses percentiles … for example, in the three-icon case, Excel 12 sets 33% and 67% as the break between the three sets of icons.  We are going to try and provide a wide range of useful icon sets out of the box in Excel 12.  Here is a picture of some of the icon sets we are planning to include in Excel 12 … the list is incomplete, and icons may change somewhat before we ship, however, as we finalize our artwork.

Here are some answers to questions you may have about icon sets:

  • Icon sets come in three sizes, so as the user increases or decreases the font size, we will make the icon larger or smaller as appropriate
  • Users cannot add their own icons this release (maybe next time!), so we have tried to include a good set of useful, flexible icons
  • It will be possible to hide the value of the cell and just draw the icon when you apply an icon set conditional formatting rule, so users will be able to build all sorts of interesting “dashboards” in Excel 12
  • For folks familiar with SQL Server Analysis Services 2005 Key Performance Indicators, we have synched up on the graphics, so when you use Analysis Services KPIs in Excel 12 we “do the right thing” and put the right icon in cells automatically

One quick non-conditional-formatting note – Cyndy Wessling has been working PDF support in Office (across Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Visio, Publisher, InfoPath, and OneNote) and has set up her own blog to answer questions, share information, etc. on PDF support in Office 12.  If PDF is something you want to know more about, this will be a good source of information, so please give it a read.