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Using Excel to Create Dashboards

by Sander Viegers, MicrosoftWednesday, August 08, 2007

Interactive prototypes

To get a good feel for the actual experience, we build interactive prototypes. Prototyping the user experience is often the best way to discover problems and to communicate solutions. The interactive sketch in Image 5 explored a novel way of browsing different variations of the chart while keeping the context of the workbook intact. It appeared that it would be challenging to show the variations in such small thumbnails.

Digital Dashboard Creation in Microsoft Excel

Interactive prototype

Later in the development cycle the prototypes were of higher fidelity and looked more like the final product. Image 6 shows a screenshot of a prototype that was used to optimize the ‘insert chart’ experience. In the usability study, people were asked to insert a chart, select data, and choose different layouts and styles. This prototype also shows the contextual tabs. These are tabs that only appear when the chart is selected. This was a good way to show variations of the chart while keeping the context intact.

Digital Dashboard Creation in Microsoft Excel

High-fidelity interactive prototype

Conclusion

Our goal was to create an experience that allowed people to easily create good-looking and meaningful charts. Because these were the most important goals, Quick Layouts and Styles are the two most prominent user interface elements. The Quick layout gallery ensures meaningful charts: no redundant information and no missing information. The Style gallery ensures a variety of good looking charts for various satiations.
As a user experience designer I worked with the Excel team to give constant feedback of what the end product could be. The key thing to realize is that no one knows what we ship until we ship. Until then, through sketches, wireframes and interactive prototypes we explore the entire solution space, get user feedback and iterate until we have the best solutions. This process is illustrated in the image below.

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