Charting II – Professional charts, made easy (continued) + Excel 2007 keyboard access model …

Keyboard Access

Today I want to start with a link to Jensen Harris’ UI blog, where Jensen has put up a post that describes the Office 2007 keyboard model.  I am personally a big keyboard user, and I know the same is true for a lot of Excel users, so this is a topic that is near and dear to my heart.  You can read the details for yourselves, but I want to summarize the key design points.

  • Every one of the Office 2003 keyboard shortcuts (i.e. CTRL+B) continues to work the same in Office 2007; there’s no relearning necessary.
  • All of the Office2003 menu accelerators (i.e. ALT+I+R to insert a row) will work just like you were running Office 2003 … no need to activate any sort of legacy keyboard mode or anything like that – your menu accelerators just work (note, for the beta users out there, this is a change from beta1).  This is very useful for those of us that have memorized menu accelerators over our lives using the product.
  • Every single command in the Ribbon receives a letter – a KeyTip – which is used to activate that command via the keyboard.  Basically, when you press the Alt key, the keytips show up on the ribbon, and you then simply need to press the appropriate letter to execute the command.  Here is a picture of the keytips on the formulas tab.

(Click to enlarge)

Again, for beta1 users, this is different from what you have seen.  To quote Jensen: “The feedback we got from Beta 1 on the KeyTips was loud and clear: good idea, but the KeyTips key sequences are too long and inefficient compared to the old menu accelerators.  So, we went back to the drawing board and looked at how we could shorten KeyTip sequences to be as short as possible. We removed an extra keystroke everywhere by no longer requiring you to type the KeyTip for the group a control is in. And, we did away with most of the two-letter KeyTips by adding numbers as potential KeyTips for very dense Ribbon tabs.  The result? We ran an analysis of every single command in Office 2003 and Office 2007–and the average ‘keystroke length” to access a command has gone down considerably. And for frequently-used commands in Office 2007, most are accessible with Alt + two keystrokes, just like the top-level menu commands in Office 2003.” 

I am interested to see feedback on these new designs as people get their hands on beta2, but I am pretty sure this represents a big step forward for keyboard access and the ribbon.

Back To Charting …

Last post, we discussed how we have tried to make it easier to create good-looking charts by providing users with four straightforward choices.  Specifically, the choices are: chart types, chart layouts, chart styles, and document themes. The second two are covered in this post – the first two are in the previous post.

Chart Styles

The third major choice for creating a chart in Office 2007 is the chart style.  I recently covered cell, Table, and PivotTable styles.  Probably to none of your surprise, we have also added styles for Charts (and PivotCharts).  The user model is the same for charts as the other objects that support styles – the user simply needs to select a chart and then pick from a set of available styles using a gallery in the ribbon.  For example, here are the styles just for 2D clustered column charts in current builds.

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For other chart types, the styles look somewhat different, as you might expect.  The styles vary widely from simple, flat styles with solid colours to more showy styles with bevel effects or shadows.  The styles use colours from the document theme, either a variety of tints of shades of a single colour from the theme, or using all the colours from the theme.  The overall goal is to provide a wide gamut of designs, so that users can create very simple or very showy charts quickly and without a lot of fiddling.  The one key difference between chart styles and cell, Table, and PivotTable styles is that users cannot create their own chart styles – for Excel 2007, they will be limited to the several hundred that ship in the box.

Document Themes

We have already discussed Document Themes in a number of posts.  Charts use Document Theme information in pretty much the same way as Table and PivotTable styles – they pull their colour and font information from the Document Themes.  In addition, charts use the lines, fills, and effects information from the theme that as well.  Accordingly, your chart will automatically match the text, tables, shapes, and diagrams elsewhere in your document.  Change themes, and your chart will change along with the rest of your document.  Move your chart to another document, and you can choose to match the destination theme.  More on that second point in a later post. 


To show the wide variety of results from these four choices, I took the same data set and created pictures of it with two chart types, two chart layouts, two chart styles, and two document themes. Each of these charts is only four choices away from the original data set. You may have your favourites, but hopefully all of them are professional-looking charts.  One other thing to keep in mind – a large number of charts created in Excel end up in PowerPoint, where dark backgrounds and contrasting colours are important for projection, so that should help explain some of the styles you see below.

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

Next time – the chart contextual tabs.