Excel 2010 new features – Sparklines

As discussed previously, we have some marketing information about what we will be seeing in the next release of the Office system, but not really a great deal of technical information. The Excel team are starting to blog a bit more now that the Technical Preview is underway; their 10,000 foot view is a good starting point to find out what’s coming, or you can read the press release. On the official Office 2010 site there is a video by Albert Chew, Product Manager for Office, which shows off some of the new features of Excel 2010 (sorry, no direct link to the video available, it’s linked in the menu on the left of that page). On the Microsoft PressPass videos page there is an Excel 2010 demo video which you can also download (16MB wmv file). This covers two new features – sparklines (from the start) and slicers (from about 1min 55 into the video)

As more information emerges, I’ll write in more detail about some of the new features. Today let’s have a look at probably the most eagerly awaited extension to Excel’s data visualisation capabilities – sparklines.

Sparklines in Excel 2010

Sparklines are very dense microcharts used to display simple information, usually showing historical values to give context to the current data. The term was coined by information visualisation guru Edward Tufte and discussed in a whole chapter in his book Beautiful Evidence, which describes sparklines as “intense, simple, word-sized graphics”.

Examples might include past share values, commodity prices, exchange rates, or internal business key performance indicators. Lines may have key points highlighted (high value, low value, last value), show a trendline or normal band, but otherwise will be deliberately uncluttered to aid easy interpretation.

Typical sparkline sales versus targetThe example to the right shows the previous 12 months sales and target, with the highest and lowest sales figures highlighted. Some people might prefer to show the figures to the right of the sparkline as they relates to the final data point and therefore the right hand end of the plotted line, but this is a matter of personal preference. Although this example is show here in quite a large screenshot, the trend is very clear at much smaller sizes too.

While lines are by far the most common choice for sparklines, especially to show changes over time, other formats may be found – columns to show breakdown of a total by category for comparison, for example. Another popular use is to track success and failure, such as wins and losses for a sports team, a technique described well by this article on sparklines at Bissantz, the creators of SparkMaker, an add-in for Excel.

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