By Michael Alexander

Table design is one of the most underestimated endeavors in Excel reporting. How a table is designed has a direct effect on how well an audience absorbs and interprets the data in that table. Unfortunately, putting together a data table with an eye for economy and ease of consumption is an uncommon skill.

For example, the table shown here is similar to many found in Excel reports. The thick borders, the variety of colors, and the poorly formatted numbers are all unfortunate trademarks of tables that come from the average Excel analyst.

A poorly designed table.
A poorly designed table.

You can improve on this table by applying these four basic design principles:

  • Use colors sparingly, reserving them only for information about key data points.

  • De-emphasize borders, using the natural white space between the components to partition your dashboard.

  • Use effective number formatting to avoid inundating your table with too much ink.

  • Subdue your labels and headers.