How to make dynamic waffle charts in Excel

Waffle charts can add visual appeal to a report. They seem to be popping up everywhere lately! I recently used them in a report and I wanted to share my process in order to show you how easy they are.

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Once you break these charts down you can see that they are just 10×10 grids. And we all know that Excel, er, excels at working with grids.

First off, type out your data in two columns. You can see that I have values for Group A, Group B, and Group C. Then you are going to make some 10×10 grids (since I have three groups, I made three grids). These grids will contain the values 1-100%.

step1

Next we are going to resize the grids. Highlight all of the columns in your grid and drag your mouse to resize. The default line height in Excel is 20 pixels so I like to make my cells 20 pixels wide so that things are perfectly square.

step2

At this point I make my number font really tiny (as in size 6) so that it fits into the cells.

Change your background and text color on the grids to whatever you want your default color to be. I chose a light grey.

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Now we are going to change the color of the borders. I find white too harsh of a contrast so I like using a very light grey. Changing border color is a bit quirky. First highlight the columns with your grids. Go to the border button and go down to line color and select the color that you would like.

step4

Your cursor will turn into a little pencil and you will see little black dots in your grids. Higlight the columns that contain the grids again and press the border button. At this point the border colors should be changed.

step5

Next we will use the magic of conditional formatting to fill in our grids.  Highlight the first grid and go to Conditional Formatting and click New Rule.

step6

Next select “Format only cells that contain” and select “less than or equal to” and then select the cell that contains the actual value for Group A. This is telling Excel that you want to change the color of every cell in the grid that is less than or equal to the actual score.

step7

Go to “Format” and change the background fill color AND the font color to whatever color you would like for your group.

Repeat these steps for all of your grids. When you are finished you will have something like this:

step8

Alright, now we’re getting somewhere.

Next we’re going to do some extra Excel kung fu to make pictures from these grids that we can paste anywhere in our workbook (such as a front sheet that you are using to summarize your results).  Not only this, the picture will automatically update if you change your data.

Highlight all of the cells in your first grid and copy. Right click wherever you want your waffle chart to be. Right click, go to paste special, and then go to the little picture with a link on it. This creates something called a linked picture.

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You can easily move this picture around on the worksheet and resize it. If you change your data in the previous worksheet, where we set up our grid, the picture will automatically update. Neat, right?

Once you have created linked pictures for all of your waffle charts let’s add some labels so that we can easily tell what scores the charts are representing.

Go to the first waffle chart and insert a text box. Change the fill and outline of the text box to ‘none’. Make sure the (empty) text box is selected. Go up to the formula bar, type = and then navigate to where the score for that group is stored, click that specific cell, and hit enter. Your text box should now contain that group’s score.

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Like the linked picture, if you change the group’s score, the text box will automatically update to reflect this.

Repeat the steps above to label your other waffle charts. Tweak the formatting to make the text boxes easy to read. Add a headline that tells the reader the main insight from the charts and there you go, you’re done!

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Before you get too excited there is an important downside to waffle charts: They take up a lot of space. Each waffle grid is essentially showing one data point. That is a lot of real estate for one data point!

Let me know your thoughts on waffle charts – Love them? Sick of them? Other thoughts?

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