We spend a lot of time thinking about how you can better visualize your data in PowerPoint. Our clients often ask us how to best display time-based data, where you have actual figures, budgets, and forecasts in the same chart. I have to admit; this is quite a challenging problem. Luckily, I'm here to show you some best practices today. Let's dive in!
Let's start with the following chart. Notice that we have some actual values, a budget value, and forecast values.
A common mistake is to display everything the same way. I don't recommend this since it is hard for your users to understand your data quickly. It doesn't help to highlight the current period with a shape, either.
Instead, design a system for how to display actual values, budget values, and forecasted values. When you have this visual system in place, stick with it, so your audience can learn to recognize it. That makes your charts memorable.
Our suggestion is to use the same color for the entire series but to alternate the patterns. Use a solid fill for actuals, an outline for budget values, and a hatch pattern for forecasts. This method combines aesthetics with functional design since it is easy for your audience to recognize the different value types quickly.
Styling a chart this way might seem like a lot of work, but this is where a tool like Grunt can save you a lot of time and ensure high quality. Let me quickly show you how I would deal with this using Grunt.
We have built our guidelines into Grunt in the form of rules. To add a budget rule, start by selecting a series in your chart. Then add a Budget rule from the menu to the right.
The rule gets applied to the entire series. To limit it to a specific category, you can adjust the targets at the bottom of the open dialog. Let's include the budget category as a target.
We could have stopped here, but I'll give you an advanced tip as well. If you want to make this style reusable, I recommend choosing another target than the specific category. If my data changes later, I want to tell Grunt to update the styling automatically. I can do that by swapping out the particular category with a dynamic target.
I remove the category target. Then, I'll add a "Match text"-target. I tell Grunt to search for data points that end with the letter B (for "budget") in the first row of my data.
You see that we're back at the same result, but now we have a dynamic rule. If I change my data to state that 2021 was a budget value, Grunt will style it correctly without my intervention.
Now, let's style our forecasts. I'll duplicate my budget rule, and open it. I click the Match Text target to tell Grunt to look for the letter E instead. Then, I'll change the style to display the forecast pattern. You can see that all my estimates get the style applied.
There is another beautiful thing about this way of working. If I want to change the color of my chart, I can simply select the series and pick another color. Grunt will then ensure my style blends with the new color.
Finally, I can copy and paste these styles and apply them to other charts as well. I do that by right-clicking on the layer icon - choosing "Copy All". Then I go to another slide with more charts. I select a chart, and press Ctrl + V to paste my rules. I can do this quickly for all my charts.
With style applied, you can quickly identify that just two of these charts contained a budget value, which was hard to identify before. I recommend that you play around with these styles and use them when you have different types of time-based data.