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Better Spreadsheet Design in Four Steps

You are about to see what a difference a few extra steps can make in improving your overall spreadsheet design.

One of the best things about spreadsheets is the number of customization options available, especially the formatting features.

In this article, I’m going to take a pre-built spreadsheet and show you how to clean up the design in four simple steps.

I won’t change the formula, functions, or any of the text. I will only change the formatting to show you how big a difference it can really make.

The Starting Spreadsheet

Take a look at the spreadsheet shown below.

At first glance, this spreadsheet doesn’t look too bad. It’s readable, and it does the job of calculating your work hours. What more can you ask for?

Well, let’s see.

I venture to say that four major formatting improvements can take this spreadsheet from average to exceptional. Keep on reading to see what they are.

Step 1 – Replace the Gridlines with Borders

When you look at this spreadsheet, you see a mass of cells mixed with some text and formulas.

The good news is that you can see the text and formulas fairly well. The bad news is that you have all these extra blank cells that make the workbook feel busy and cluttered.

What happens if you remove the gridlines and add a light grey border to the area you want to focus on?

Your brain stops paying any attention to the blank cells because you can hardly make them out anymore. All the blank cells are no longer a distraction, and you can focus more on what matters.

Step 2 – Add Space and Adjust the Font

One of my favorite aspects of spreadsheets is the ability to change the size of cells. You can do this by changing the dimensions of the rows and columns.

If you increase the size of the rows and columns, you can make the cells appear larger. This gives you room to increase the font size of your text and formulas.

With these adjustments, here is what with you end up with.

You get a spreadsheet that is much easier to read and work with. How amazing is that?

Step 3 – Add Fill Color to Certain Cells

This next step will go a long way in making your spreadsheet even easier to use.

As of right now, it isn’t immediately obvious which cells should be changed (the start and stop times), and which should not be modified.

To help make this as obvious to the user as possible, add a light grey fill color to the cells that should not be changed.

The fill color focuses the user’s attention on the cells that can and should be modified when using the spreadsheet. Furthermore, it discourages changes to the cells that should not be touched.

Step 4 – Add Text Color to Formulas

The final piece of the puzzle involves adding a new text color to cells containing formulas.

Look at what happens when I change the text color of the formula cells to blue.

The extra color indicates to the user that these cells must be different from the others. And when they click on any of these blue-colored cells, they will see that it contains a formula.

From this point on, they will be able to recognize the cells containing formulas and avoid accidentally deleting them.

And that is how you can take an average spreadsheet and make it exceptional with just a few modifications to look and formatting.

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