10 Ideas for Enhancing Dashboards with Excel Shapes

By Michael Alexander

Most users think of Excel shapes as mildly useful objects that can be added to a worksheet only if you need to show a square, some arrows, a circle, and so on. But if you use your imagination, you can leverage Excel shapes to create stylized interfaces that can really enhance your dashboards. Here are ten examples of how Excel shapes can spice up your Dashboards.

Peekaboo tab

A Peekaboo tab lets you label a section of your dashboard with a label that looks like it’s wrapping around your dashboard components. There is no real magic here. It’s just a set of shapes and text boxes that are cleverly arranged to give the impression that a label is wrapping around to show the region name.

Peekaboo banner

Want to draw attention to handful of key metrics? Try wrapping your key metrics with a peekaboo banner. This banner goes beyond boring text labels, allowing you to create the feeling that a banner is wrapping around your numbers.

This effect is achieved by layering a few Excel shapes so that they fall nicely on top of each other, creating a cohesive effect.

Pie of chart interface

Here’s an idea to get the most out of your dashboard real-estate. You can layer pie charts with column charts to create a unique set of views. You could have each pie chart represent the percent of total revenue, and a column chart showing some level of detail for the Region. Simply layer your pie chart on top of a circle shape and a column chart.

Wrap around banner

A curved box and a couple of ovals can be layered to create a curved banner effect.

Slicer tabs

Want to get fancy with your pivot tables? Try layering slicers with a simple rectangle to create a tab effect.

Custom callout graphics

Draw attention to key messages with custom callout graphics. These graphics are made with a few simple shapes and text labels.

Poke through labels

Try taking a white rectangle and layering it on top of an ellipsis with a shadow. You essentially get a shadow effect that makes it look like your labels are poking through the sheet.

Fancy banners

Try experimenting with different combinations of shapes to create your own unique banners.

Create hand-drawn mockups

One of the line shapes available in Excel is called Scribble. This shape allows you to hand-draw your own image. Although not the most useful, this feature can come in handy when you want create a dashboard mockup.

A dashboard mock-up is essentially a “practice” dashboard that gives you a to get a feel for what the components and layout will look like. For the purposes of mock-ups, sitting down with your customer and hashing out the details with paper and pen works just fine. But it would be nice if you had a set up shapes that can be quickly added and moved around the screen to test different layouts.

You can use the Scribble line shape to hand draw a set of components, then use them to make your mockup.

Create a shape-driven infographic

Once you settle on some of your favorite shape graphics, try putting several of them together to create an entire shape-driven infographic.