The Ultimate Guide to Excel Dashboard Widgets

Published on
March 19, 2024
A laptop computer, showing charts on the screen

Excel reporting is a technique that many professionals rely upon, especially with the advent of Excel dashboards. With a need to display and present data in a visually appealing way that aids in analysis, businesses turn to dashboards as a solution. In this brief guide, we’ll answer your questions about Excel dashboards, including how to create an Excel dashboard widget, and how to create a dashboard in Excel that updates automatically (hint: by using the advanced features available through FluenceXL).

What Is an Interactive Dashboard in Excel?

An interactive dashboard in Excel is a way to give you concise visualization of data in real-time. It may also include the ability to click on elements and get additional information. For example, clicking a dropdown menu to display options. The best Excel dashboards include interactive elements to keep your audience engaged and interested in the information being displayed.

Can You Make an Interactive Dashboard in Excel?

Yes, although you may find yourself struggling with Excel’s limitations if you are attempting to make interactive dashboards without an additional tool. In Excel alone, the “interactive” elements you can include are things like scroll bars, check boxes, and dropdown lists. Dashboards aren’t what Excel was built to do, but rather the software has been extended for this purpose, so you may find it difficult to create the exact dashboard you’re needing.

That’s where FluenceXL comes in. You can design best-practice, professional dashboards that are completely interactive and responsive. You can connect directly to your data, eliminating the risks of using Excel as a database, and create interactive dashboards that allow you to explore data with features like simple member drilling and drag & drop hierarchies. You’ll gain a deeper understanding of your data with FluenceXL and have the flexibility you need with a low learning curve.

There are, of course, other tools to create interactive dashboards as well. PowerBI is a common tool, and is a wonderful platform for most visual reports. However, you may find yourself exporting this data to Excel for analysis, which can be a tedious process. FluenceXL can connect Excel directly to Power BI data, eliminating this pain point and providing a wealth of functionality beyond pivot tables and pie charts.

What Makes a Good Dashboard in Excel?

To make a good dashboard, you’ll want to keep in mind three words: simplicity, focus, and clarity. Let’s explore these Excel dashboard best practices so you can create useful and well-designed dashboards:

  1. Simplicity - It’s tempting to pack your dashboard full of metrics and use all of the color options available. However, using too many numbers and filling your dashboard with a multitude of neon highlights can make it difficult to read. In general, keep your dashboard design simple and streamlined in both content and design. You can always create other dashboards to convey additional information if it is truly necessary.
  2. Focus - What is your goal with this dashboard? What are you trying to achieve and what information needs to be included (or excluded) to make this dashboard a useful tool? Consider if this dashboard is for reporting purposes or if it is for ongoing monitoring uses. Once you’ve pinpointed what the purpose is, you can make sure that all the components are focused on presenting the material in the most helpful way.
  3. Clarity - The best way to bring clarity to your dashboard is to include the right elements. Be thoughtful about what type of charts you include. Line charts are best suited to show trends while a bar chart can help you quickly compare values.

What Should Be Included in an Excel Dashboard?

In general, Excel dashboards tend to include elements like tables, charts, auto-shape objects, gauges, and other widgets that help you present your data. The elements that are included will depend on the dashboard and the audience—the goal should determine what information is included and the design features should fit the intended audience.

For example, if you know that this dashboard will be looked at for just a few minutes by a busy executive, you might want to design a very simple dashboard with just a few of your KPIs in an easily digestible layout. If this dashboard is going to be utilized on a daily basis by sales managers who are using it for analytics and decision making, you may want to include much more detailed information and additional charts or graphs.

What Is a Widget in a Dashboard?

What is the difference between a widget and dashboard? Excel dashboard widgets are the building blocks of the dashboard. The dashboard is the full report that is made of individual widgets that display KPIs in a visually appealing way (as well as assisting with analyzing data). Excel allows you to incorporate the following types of charts as widgets:

Column chart - Column charts usually put categories on the horizontal axis and values on the vertical axis. Types of column charts include:

  1. Clustered column (used for displaying ranges of value, scale values, or names that are not in any particular order)
  2. Stacked column (used for multiple data series)
  3. 100% stacked column (shows how each data series contributes to the whole)

Line chart - Using a line to connect individual data points, this chart is useful for showing change over time. This is helpful for analyzing trends or evaluating performance during a fiscal period. You can use each type of line chart with or without markers (the dot that shows each data point’s position). In general, if your data has many categories or if your data points are approximate, you will probably want to use line charts without markers. Types of line charts include:

  1. Stacked line (used to compare more than one dataset on the same graph)
  2. 100% stacked line (shows how each value contributes to the whole)

Pie chart - The familiar pie chart shows data as slices taking up their respective percentage of the whole pie. Interestingly, many professionals advise against using pie charts in dashboards. While yes, they are overused, the real reason behind this thinking is because it’s difficult to compare each slice of the pie and understand what the data is saying. Types of pie charts include:

  1. 3-D pie (shows the pie in 3-D, and you can pull out slices of the pie manually to emphasize values)
  2. Pie of pie and bar of pie(allows you to pull out smaller values in a secondary pie or stacked bar chart)

Doughnut chart - If your data is in a column or a row, you can plot it on a doughnut chart, named because of the rings that display your data. These charts are similar to a pie chart, showing the relationship of the parts to the whole, but can use more than one data series.

Bar chart - Displaying data in bars or strips, these charts are useful for comparing and contrasting categories of data. A great alternative to the pie chart, the bar chart allows users to easily see the differences between values. Bar charts are essentially column charts rotated 90 degrees and many people use them interchangeably. The IBCS organization suggests that where plotting time (which is generally recognized as moving left to right) use columns, and where plotting structural data use bars. This is detailed in a previous blog post, IBCS choosing the right chart type. Types of bar charts include:

  1. Clustered bar (shows bars on top of each other)
  2. Stacked bar (shows the relationship of individual items to the whole)
  3. 100% stacked bar (displays what percentage each value contributes to the total)

Area chart - Used to show cumulative totals over time, area charts help to communicate overall trends. Types of area charts include:

  1. Stacked area
  2. 100% stacked area

XY (scatter) - With two value axes(horizontal x and vertical y), the scatter chart uses markers to show where each data point falls. The position of the marker in relation to the X and Y axes indicates the value, and shows the relationship between variables. Scatter charts are often used for scientific, statistical, and engineering data. Scatter charts can be designed without a connecting line or with smooth or straight lines connecting each marker. You can also choose to just use lines without the markers.

Bubble chart - Essentially a version of the scatter chart, the bubble chart adds another dimension by using the size of the bubble to represent data points in the data series. These can be useful in an interactive dashboard to ’play’ through a time series to understand changes.

Stock chart - As the name suggests, these charts are used to show fluctuations in stock prices and can be used to show changes in other data as well, like annual temperature. Types of stock charts include:

  1. High-low-close
  2. Open-high-low-close
  3. Volume-high-low-close
  4. Volume-open-high-low-close

Surface chart - Surface charts show data on a 3-D surface, similar to a topographical map. These charts can help you find optimum combinations between two sets of data. Types of surface charts include:

  1. Contour (essentially a surface chart shown from above)
  2. Wireframe contour (similar to the contour chart but without the color bands, only uses lines)

Radar charts - Radar charts are used to compare the aggregate values of several data series by plotting them as a polygon shape on a circular chart. Types of radar charts include:

  1. Radar with or without marker
  2. Filled radar (where the area covered by a data series is colored in)  

Map chart - Used to show values and categories in different geographical regions, the map chart is a useful tool for data that has a location component, like zip codes or states.

Treemap chart - A treemap chart allows you to easily compare different levels of categorization. (Available only in the 2016 and newer Excel versions)

Sunburst chart - This chart is similar to a doughnut chart but is used for displaying hierarchical data. Each ring corresponds to a hierarchical level and is segmented to show how the data makes up each ring. (Available only in the 2016 and newer Excel versions)

Histogram charts - Histogram charts are used to show frequency distributions. In addition to the histogram, another type of this chart is called the Pareto chart, typically used to map and rank business process problems in terms of frequency. (Available only in the 2016 and newer Excel versions)

Box and Whisker charts - Showing the distribution of data into quartiles, box and whisker charts allow you to highlight the mean and outliers in your data. The “whiskers” are lines that may extend vertically, showing outliers. (Available only in the 2016 and newer Excel versions)

Waterfall charts - These charts are a common tool for financial dashboards, showing a running total of financial data as values are added or subtracted. Unfortunately, the waterfall charts in Excel have several limitations. Using the built-in functionality of Excel, you won’t be able to create a dynamic waterfall chart, format the connector lines, or handle negative values. In addition, you’ll find that color change is restricted, you can’t change the data label position. This chart is available only in the 2016 and newer Excel versions. Luckily, FluenceXL can help, more on this in a moment.

Funnel charts - Often used for marketing and sales processes, the funnel chart allows you to display values for each stage. Since the values usually decrease, the bars resemble a funnel. (Available only in the 2016 and newer Excel versions)

Combo charts - As the name implies, a combo chart combines two types of chart, typically the line chart and bar chart. Using these components, this chart can help you show several categories of data at the same time. (Available only in the 2016 and newer Excel versions)

How Do I Create a Dashboard Widget in Excel?

You can create dashboards using the charts listed above, but the easiest way to create clean and clear reports is with FluenceXL. With concise, interactive charting, including waterfalls, business scenarios, and trend comparisons, you can build highly informative and consistent reports quickly and easily with customized widgets. As an added bonus, you can leverage the Excel skills you already have, as FluenceXL brings an advanced analytics tool into the flexible reporting environment of Excel.

How Do I Create a Dynamic Dashboard in Excel?

Using the tools inside of Excel, you can create more dynamic dashboards with drop-down lists, macros, or slicers. You may notice while making a dynamic dashboard in Excel that these tools aren’t truly “dynamic” and that your dashboard doesn’t show data in real-time. In order to keep your dashboard up-to-date, you’ll have to periodically refresh the data or have a developer create a custom solution.

With FluenceXL, you won’t need to manually update your data or concoct a convoluted workaround. You’ll be able to connect directly to your corporate data, removing the risks of Excel as a database, and addressing the frustrations and limitations of pivot tables and Excel charts. In FluenceXL, you’ll find deep Excel integration with a low learning curve that allows you to create dynamic, real-time dashboards with the custom widgets you’ve been searching for.

Unrivaled Flexibility with FluenceXL

When building dashboards, you’ll find that FluenceXL has the features and flexibility that will help you leverage your data effectively and efficiently. But don’t just take our word for it! Read our customer stories to learn more about how FluenceXL has helped businesses around the world display their data beautifully or get in touch to find out how we can help you get the most out of your data.

A laptop computer, showing charts on the screen
Gary Crawford
COO, FluenceXL
Fluence Technologies

Connect with Fluence

Discover how Fluence can help your organization plan better and close faster with more confidence.