A few years ago, information visualization guru Edward Tufte introduced the “sparklines” concept. For an overview, visit this excerpt from his book Beautiful Evidence. But briefly: sparklines are “data-intense, design-simple” graphics that can be put into the space of a word.
Or . . . the space of an Excel cell.
Although there are ways to add sparklines in existing versions of Excel (for an example, check out Bonavista Microcharts), the sparkline idea is likely to get increased attention when Excel 2010 debuts. A new feature will enable users to create sparklines automatically or on the fly, in any spreadsheet. There’s a preview on the Excel 2010 blog.
Sparklines are not standard charts scrunched into a tiny space. They offer a different visualization approach—sharp indicators that can be embedded in the context of a discussion, providing a highly concentrated way to explore and communicate data. Sparklines can be scattered, stacked, or otherwise combined to tell longer stories; integrated into documents and presentations; or even made into HTML tickers. (Bissantz’s SparkMaker offers a variety of display options.)
If you want to experiment with these neat little gizmos inside Excel, you can join the free Office 2010 beta. Easy to do, except for one caveat: the beta needs to go on a spare machine, since it can’t co-exist with current versions of Office, and the beta license only lasts 60 days.
It’s worth a little time/effort to take a look, though. If you’re curious about the value of one-cell viz . . . there’s no substitute for a test drive.
Spotfire Blogging Team
Image Credit: Microsoft Office Clip Art