XLCubed: A Beginner’s Advice

I have been working with XLCubed for approximately two weeks now and when I first started, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had come from a Mathematics background and so had no in-depth technical IT background.

Over the last two weeks, my main priority has been to get to know XLCubed like the back of my hand. At first, I was advised to run through all the XLCubed YouTube Tutorials and I must admit, it was a nice way to start learning this brand-new software. The videos were not complicated and gave a good introduction to all the different features. While watching the videos, I would try and recreate some of the things shown in the video such as grids and slicers, etc. and so was able to get a good feel for the software. However, the videos alone were not enough to get a full grasp of XLCubed and this was where the Partner Packs came in very useful. These are sample reports we provide for our partner network, and the steps to build them are documented.

What I’ve Learnt

I set out to try to recreate these reports and dashboards myself, as well as designing ones of my own. In doing so, I could see why I should use certain features in place of others for particular data. I also appreciated the auto-linking items in a dashboard, making all the pieces fit together like a jigsaw.

While creating these dashboards, I did face a few challenges which weren’t initially obvious to me. I have summarised a few things I have learnt which I hope can help other new users.

Formatting Grids

When formatting data within a grid, if other grids contain the same data they will get formatted too. I can see that could often be helpful, but not in my case! To handle this, you’ll need to give the grid you want to format a name and insert that name within the Format Sheet.

Format sheet showing grid name

Using XL3Link To Get A Detailed View Of A Grid Row

It is often useful to create links within a grid. Clicking on one takes you to another sheet displaying more detail for whichever row you clicked on. You can achieve this with an XL3Link – this can pass parameters to an Excel range as well as link to places in the workbook.
However, the parameter you pass is often the value of the cell holding the grid row member. As such, it usually contains a drill indicator and indentation – not ideal in our ‘detail’ page. To turn off the features, right click on the grid > XLCubed > Properties > Appearance. Here you can unselect ‘show drill indicator’ and ‘indent members when drilling’.

Setting to turn of drill indicators and indentation

Hiding Tabs

When publishing  to the Web, it is sometimes better to hide the worksheet tabs as it can give a more polished look, and they may not be needed when viewing the dashboard. To do this, go to the XLCubed Ribbon > Options > Workbook Options – Web Publication. Scroll down in Publication Permissions to find ‘Hide Sheet Tabs’ and set this to ‘Yes’.

Setting to 'hide sheet tabs' in Workbook Options

Creating My Own Dashboard

After re-building some of the existing reports, I then decided to make my own dashboard from scratch. I decided to base it on auto insurance claims, using a sample dataset. In my dashboard, I used 2 slicers, a treemap, a grid and a number of small multiple charts. My main aim was to present a dashboard which looked good, visualised the breakdown of the claims effectively and was easy for potential users to interact with. This was a fairly simple dashboard but the main thing I learnt was how to present the dashboard. As most of the charts were presenting the number of claims, I realised that it was wise to only use one colour for all of the small multiples and so in the eye of the reader, it is easier to tell that all of the grids are related.

(Click on picture to view live dashboard)

One very important thing that I learned is that formatting the content of a dashboard is almost as important as the content itself. Most of the time, it takes around 80% of the time to create your dashboard and the final 20% in formatting. Presentation is key and this can be seen when dashboards are not properly laid out and the colours clash, or are overpowering or confusing. It is important that the right balance is maintained between a plain boring dashboard and one that is over the top.

All in all, I have found XLCubed easier every time I use it.  By practising different dashboards and by creating my own, I am constantly learning something new, whether it is a new formatting style or useful properties of a grid. I was able to pick up small techniques and tricks to handle the various challenges I found and was really impressed by the flexibility.

So if you are new to XLCubed, I would definitely say there’s nothing to be afraid of, and practice makes perfect! As a user of the product you really don’t need a technical background (Excel skills do help though…).


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