Charting III – Tabs and Templates

In the previous two charting posts, I wrote about how you can make a professional chart with four simple choices – chart type, chart layout, chart style, and document theme.  As useful as we hope that is, we know that some users will want to tweak and control every aspect of their charts.  Today I want to walk through the tabs that are available when you are working with a chart and provide an overview of all the capabilities that are exposed in the ribbon.  I am also going to briefly cover templates.

Design Tab

When you are working with a chart, three additional contextual tabs will be available – Design, Layout, and Format.  Here is a shot if the Design Tab.

(Click to enlarge)

The Design tab allows users to set the style and layout of a chart.  In addition, this is where you change the chart type, change the data source, move the chart, and a few other things.  The bulk of this was covered in previous posts.

Layout Tab

The chart layout tab contains easy access to the various elements of a chart – title, legend, axes, series, data labels, etc.  Each element has its own gallery of simple choices to construct charts.  Most of these choices were available in previous versions of Excel, but you had to find the correct dialog to use them.  With the ribbon, these choices are much more accessible and results-oriented.

(Click to enlarge)

Here are examples – one for legends, and the one for an axis.  The legend gallery gives you a choice of places to put the legend. The axis gallery gives you a choice of how you would like to see the axis.  Other galleries give choices for data label position, category axis direction, and gridline patterns.

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

Note that the galleries have a “More Options …†choice at the bottom.  The goal of the galleries is to make it easy to apply common settings with one click.  Since not every capability would fit in these galleries, so there is still a format dialog for each chart element, much like in previous versions of Excel, which is launched when the user selects “More Options …† This gives the user the finest level of control over the features.  (The format dialog is now modeless, so you can click to other elements and change their formatting.  Also, the choices have also been rearranged somewhat, trying to make them fit better together.)

By now, you are probably getting a sense as to the “three level†approach that the ribbon affords us.  At the top level, users can select from galleries on the Design tab (chart layout, chart style) that to create a wide variety of charts very simply.  If users then want to do more detailed tweaking, they can move to the Layout tab, where they can manipulate the objects on the chart, again using very visual, results-oriented galleries.  And, for those folks that want even more fine-grained control, there are modal dialogs with every available setting.

Format Tab

The Format tab is based on the Format tab used for shapes (which I haven’t yet covered in a post, but I will at some point).  You can choose any chart element, and format it just as though it is an OfficeArt shape. 

(Click to enlarge)

This includes control over the fill: 16 million colours, transparency, gradient fills, and texture and picture fills.  It also includes control over the lines: 16 million colours, transparency, dashing, compound lines, arrows, and even cap and join settings.  Effects, such as shadow, glow, soft edges, and bevel, can also be accessed from the Format tab.  All of these are drawn using OfficeArt, so they are high quality and look consistent.  OfficeArt draws smooth antialiased lies, which makes line charts look so much better.  3-D charts are drawn with OfficeArt 3-D, including antialiasing, lighting, shadows, and materials.  In a post from a few months back, you can see many of these effects on charts.

The Format tab also includes WordArt effects for text. If you want your chart title to glow or look chiselled, the WordArt effects enable it. The text is drawn with ClearType, making it much more readable than text on charts in previous versions, especially at smaller sizes.


Finally, a quick word about templates.  Once you have a finished designing a custom chart to look just like you want it, you can save it as a template.  This is similar to the custom chart types of previous versions, but we have exposed the feature a bit more carefully (both on the ribbon and in the Create Chart dialog).  Also, the templates are stored as separate files in a directory, making it much easier to share them from user to user or machine to machine.  Finally, for those interested in the new file formats, templates use the same schema as charts.