BonaVista Microcharts: a very cool Excel charts add-in

Corporate finance

One of the side perks of running this site is that I occasionally get invited to review products and services. Since I suppose I write so much about using Excel, the creator of contacted me in December about his Excel add-in, and from Germany, no less! In the interest of full disclosure, I am not being paid to write this review; however, he did provide me with a professional license key to test out the product.

You might have noticed that I’ve been using it in a couple of my posts (like here and here) that include MicroCharts built using Excel 2003. What can I say? I love the application, and even if I’d stumbled upon this product on my own, I’d be inclined to get it to use at work, anyway. MicroCharts offer a slew of different types of charts (pie, line, column, bar, bullet). For such a simple application, I find them pretty powerful. Here are some example column charts (click to enlarge):

Background

MicroCharts is based on work by the famous , an expert on the visual display of quantitive information, and more specifically, on something Tufte calls , “intense, simple, word-sized graphs”.

Review – Why MicroCharts are Good for Corporate Work

I found the software intuitive and easy-to-use, and short, clean, offline flash tutorials are even included to get you started. (Actually, one thing I learned from watching them is that I could really make my Excel data vastly more readable just by emulating their fonts….I have a lot to learn!)

I don’t know how prevalent this is, but in the corporations I’ve worked in, communication (especially between finance and other groups) is dominated by Excel sheets copy-and-pasted into Powerpoint. And not just for presentation purposes. So, to me, the more visual you can get the data, the more intuitive it is to understand what’s going on. For example, compare this set of data (click to enlarge):

with the same set of data with some MicroCharts added (click to enlarge):

At a glance, you can tell if revenues and costs have increased or decreased over time, trends in profitability, market share, and how the ending November 2005 financials (the red dot) compare to previous ones. You can even set up grey bands to indicate a “normal” range (mean +/- 3 standard deviations).

So much easier to see how you’re performing, isn’t it? (If the images look a bit fuzzy, that’s because I’m using MS Paint as a quick-and-dirty method to add images to this site…some resolution gets lost.)

Summary

So, there you go. A rare, rave review from me about a great product. (And Excel-related, no less!) By the way, I don’t benefit at all if you decide to purchase MicroCharts, but I have to say that for $99 a pop for the color, professional version (and $49 for the basic), there are umpteen million worse performing applications out there that cost 100x more!

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12 Feedbacks on "BonaVista Microcharts: a very cool Excel charts add-in"

frank

What kind of fonts??? If you don’t mind me asking.
Also, can’t you just build a normal chart and shrink it to this size? Is that not possible in Excel?



frank

Not that I’m trying to knock the usefulness of the add-in, but I’m just curious.



frank

Oh man, formatting those hand made mini-charts do take some time. Ok, now I see the use :P
But, that’s nothing a custom macro couldn’t fix!



Ricemutt

Hey Franky,

You must be a real Excel guru to be a master at macros! :)

I honestly haven’t thought much about using regular Excel charts and shrinking them, but considering how much time it takes me to create an “acceptable” normal graph, I imagine it’d be a pain. Especially if the resolution diminishes when you shrink them.

The BonaVista website and demos use Gil Sans MT (which is what I’ve been using in my posts, including this one). I think it looks a lot cleaner and more “published” than the regular standby old Arial….



Golbguru

Hey that things looks cool :) Instead of trying to insert separate charts for every trend (worse when trying to do that in Matlab) this is pretty handy summary right alongside the numbers.



Andreas

Frank,

The problem with Excel charts is that you can not format them so that they fit into a cell. The Excel chart engine simply cuts the charts when you try it. Another problem with Excel charts is that Excel gets memory problems when you put more then 30-40 on a sheet.

Andreas Flockermann
BonaVista Systems
http://www.microcharts.net



frank

Andreas,
Thanks for the reply. Like I said, wasn’t trying to know the usefullness of the plug-in but I was a little skeptical (until I tried doing it by hand).
Was unaware of the memory problems with numerous charts. Of all the things I’ve had to do with macros, charts are the biggest pain in the a**, I must admit.



MoneyMan

I don’t see any situation where this would be useful. If you have to shrink your charts down to the size of a cell, you obviously have too much information on your sheet.

Suggest you read “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information” for more info on how not to confuse readers.



Ricemutt

Actually, these small charts (a.k.a. sparklines) were invented by Edward Tufte, author of “The Visual Display of Quantitive Information”. He talks about them in a later book.



Fabrice

Just to let you not that there is a free alternative to Bonavista’s Microcharts.

—> http://sparklines-excel.blogspot.com/

I use it to follow my portfolio

The project is open-source, give it a try !



Mansi Khurana

Dear Concern,

Insert Micro Chart button not working – I tried uninstalling & reinstalling the same but stil link doesnt work. I m using Win XP Prof 2003.

Can you help me.



suman

Thanks for all the informative tips & easy steps to use Excel . Could you guide me as in how to prepare line graph .



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