Why Excel 2010 Misses the Mark in Data Visualization
In his August 10 blog post, Stephen Few, a widely recognized expert on data visualization and founder of Perceptual Edge, shares his insight into the graphic capabilities of soon-to-be-released Excel 2010. Steve had viewed this upcoming version with great anticipation, for he had been disappointed with Excel 2007’s graphic capabilities. Unfortunately for Steve, that disappointment continues with Excel 2010.
In his blog post, Steve writes, “Early glimpses into the charting capabilities of Excel 2010 are now beginning to surface, and it appears that the opportunity to improve the product’s data visualization capabilities has once again been missed.”
It is too bad that Excel isn’t providing leadership in the field of data visualization, but I’m not all that surprised. Excel aims to please the masses by trying to do as much as possible for anyone who works with data. That, I believe, is the main reason it’s so popular. There’s so much it can do. And it tries very hard to meet the basic needs of all its users. Unfortunately, that makes Excel a jack-of-all-trades and expert of none.
Over the past several years, I’ve seen graphic presentations mature rapidly from static graphs to dashboard widgets to interactive, animated visuals. This new type of visual allows users to sort, filter and animate their data to reveal potential problems that need to be addressed or opportunities that need to be seized.
I think one big reason Excel misses the mark is that it views graphs as an end result, rather than a means to an end. Its graphs attempt to merely display results, not find trends and patterns. If it focused more on how analysts would use visuals to explore their data than to communicate their findings, the end result would be much closer to what Stephen recommends.
Advanced visualization tools, like JMP, use the graph as a way to explore one's data, find trends and patterns, and predict potential outcomes. JMP not only provides those visualizations but also a wealth of statistical analysis allowing its users to delve deeper into root causes. And I have found it is typically not a question of if but when a user will need those analytics.
I feel for Stephen. He has spent his career preaching valuable visualization techniques and highlighting those products that provide the tools to achieve that goal. Excel may be too general a product to meet his expectations. Fortunately, products like JMP will gladly fill the void.
I'll be talking more about how to go beyond Excel with JMP and showing some examples in my live Webcast on Sept 1. Join me, if you'd like.