Common Row Highlighting

Last week’s post looked at the fundamentals of formatting XLCubed grids. A lot can be done with these techniques but sometimes more interactive formatting is desired. Within an XLCubed grid you can set Interaction Options to track which cell has been selected and output the selection and/or format it. In this post, we will look at how to apply this to highlight a row across multiple grids.

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How’d you like that….displayed!

Today’s blog will show you a really quick and easy way to format your grid to show different display units.

This approach is ideal for dynamic Grids where the size of the values can vary considerably based on the selected filters, or where the user has drilled down to lower levels in the data. For example, if country level numbers are in hundreds of millions, but customer level numbers are in hundreds or thousands, it can be useful to have the ability to quickly change the display units.

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Creating rounded corners in Excel – revisited

Today we’re revisiting one of our more popular guides, Creating rounded corners in Excel Tables, and have updated it for v7.1. When Igor Asselbergs was contemplating the value of round corners in design, he came to the conclusion that in many cases they added real value to the user experience.

The effect can be explained by the Gestalt Law of ContinuityGestalt is a set of rules based on research into perception psychology, and a very powerful tool for Excel table design. In table design this effect can help us to see the table columns as a unit.

The previous process to create rounded corners in Excel tables required quite a bit of persistence and patience. In Version 7.1, we’ve introduced a feature to enable adding rounded corners in a few seconds rather than several minutes, so while the theory is identical the implementation is much improved. Take this report showing sales KPIs, where we would like to add rounded corners to the header row in the table.

To do this we first highlight the required area:

Then we go to Extras -> Add/Edit Round Corners:

The Colours and Border thickness will be picked up from the selected cells. Select the corners to be made round (in this case the Top Left and Top Right corners):

Click OK to apply the borders


To edit existing corners which were created by XLCubed then you can just highlight the cell or range and Go to Extras -> Add/Edit Round Corners. The changes will be applied to the existing corners (or the corners can be removed by unselecting them).

It’s a simple addition to the product which would have saved us quite a bit of time in customer implementations over the years, and hopefully now does the same for our users.

Mind the gap!

Today’s blog is going to show you how to use XLCubed’s custom calculation functionality to create column breaks in a grid.  Imagine that you have a report that shows you Reseller Sales across Product Model Categories over a 12-month time period.




There’s nothing wrong with this report but don’t you think it would be nicer if there was a way to separate out each quarter block ie put in a divider column between March and April, June and July, September and October.  That would make it much easier to read and show clearly where each quarter period started and ended.

So let’s start by creating a custom calculation.  Click the highlighted icon and give your custom calculation a name – let’s call it ColBreak.  It’s connected to the Date.Calendar hierarchy.


Now in the Expression area enter  a blank string starting and ending with ” (double-quote).  Click OK.

To insert this into our report we now go to the Hierarchy Editor for Calendar Date – expand the All member and you will see ColBreak.

Drag this across and insert it into the report.  We will insert it after March, June and September and click OK.



The report now looks like this:


Now let’s format this column break so that the we don’t see ColBreak appearing as a column heading.   You need to right-click to get XLCubed’s right-click menu and then choose Format This Member.

We will choose white for the Font colour before clicking OK.

The report now looks like this with clear demarcations between each quarter:




A snappy fix for layout problems in Excel

Have you ever tried copying parts of one workbook to another and been restricted by column widths?  Or maybe you’re almost done with a report layout only to find that the last table you need to add has 4 columns, where there is only room for 3?  Today we’re going to show you how to use Excel’s Camera tool to get around any Excel column width limitations to achieve your dashboard goals!  Here we have an Excel heat Map on a separate sheet in our workbook.

It has been inserted into the dashboard below where the first thing to notice is the workbook’s  variable column widths, in particular columns J and K.  If we had just inserted our heat map as it was, the column widths in our dashboard would determine the width size of the heatmap.    Instead we used Excel’s camera tool to insert our heatmap sized at exactly what we wanted, regardless of the destination sheet’s column widths.


We follow these simple steps:

  • select  the heat map in the source sheet
  • click the Camera Tool icon
  •  navigate to the destination sheet
  • click and insert exactly where you want

The Excel Camera Tool is also a great way creating dynamic screenshots of particular groups of data.  The Camera Tool takes a picture of a selected area, and you can then paste that picture wherever you want it. It updates automatically, and because it is a picture rather than a set of links to the original cells, any formatting or data change in the source is automatically reflected in the picture.

The heat map chart source figures have been updated to show Europe’s higher sales – as you can see Europe now has the greater sales:


The dashboard heat map has updated automatically to reflect this value change.

 If you can’t see the Camera Tool on your Excel menu you can easily attach it to your Quick Access Toolbar by performing the following steps:

  • Click the File Tab
  • Click Options
  • Choose the Quick Access Toolbar Option
  • In the ‘Choose Command From’ dropdown, select Commands not in Ribbon
  • Find the Camera Tool from the alphabetical list of commands and add it to the Quick Access Toolbar.

Formatting Tables in v7

We’ve had some great feedback from our Newsletter announcing the release of v7.  A number of users have asked how we created the example in the Newsletter:

So,  today we’re going to show you how to achieve some of the formatting that is now available when using SQL tables in v7.

Let’s create a SQL table from Grids & Tables tab.  You’ll see the Create connection window:

Click Connect and you will see the databases you have access to….we’ll create our query based on Bicycle Sales and the fctData view.


Our SQL query returns the following data which is great but clearly is not that easy to read.

Let’s format this table.  We’ll get rid of any borders currently set on the workbook by going to the format sheet and using Format Cells on the default cell format cell as below:


Back to the table, right-click and refresh table.


Now for the actual formatting of the table. Let’s format entries in the first column cPOS. Right-click on Car and Bike Stores, right-click and select Format Column and let’s set the font to be bold, size 12 with a double border on both top and bottom.

Now the second column cProduct. Again right-click Format Column and set the top border to be double, bottom border thick and the font italic.


We now go to Properties tab and on Appearance tab set Sections as below:

Check the box ‘Use columns as sections’, the column count is 2 in our example and Display style is set as ‘Sections in separate rows’.

We’ll also hide the first row of the workbook showing the table column headings.
The report now looks like the screenshot below which is much easier to read.


Number Formats

One of the main reasons we use Excel is to analyse and display our data, for either our own consumption, or to show to others. In both cases, we want our data to be easily readable, and any important patterns to be immediately obvious.

We use colours, borders and other formatting to highlight important characteristics of our data, and to de-emphasize those features that should stay in the background (see  The Dashboard Squint Test for more). In just the same way, we can use number formats to highlight numbers that are unusual in some way, decrease the focus on uninteresting numbers, or to remove excess detail. Here we recap the essentials of numeric formatting in Excel.

The basics

To apply or change a number format, select the cell or range that needs to be altered, then either:

  • make basic changes (add or remove decimal places, use percentages and so on) using the Number button group on the Home tab (in Excel 2007 and newer),
  • make more advanced changes by right-clicking on the range and selecting the Format Cells option,
  • if you prefer keyboard shortcuts, you can show the format cells dialog by using the Ctrl+1 keyboard shortcut.

From the dialog, you can select some common and very useful formats, including:

  • Number: this allows you to customise the number of decimal places and whether to show thousand separators
  • Date and Time: for formatting dates and times, allowing a variety of shorter and longer options
  • Percentage: format the numbers as percentages, with the desired number of decimal places
  • Custom: allows you to specify your own custom formats (see below)

Simple custom formats

We’ll first go through some simple examples, including some of the standard formats mentioned above, so that in the next section we can build up more complex ones. To enter these formats, follow the steps listed above, then select Custom from the list on the left of the dialog.

  • To show a custom number of decimal places using a number format, write the number you want to show using zeros, for example 0.00 to show your number using 2 decimal places
  • To include digits only if they exist, use a # sign instead of the zero. For example, to only include the part of the number before the decimal if greater than 1 (or less than -1), use #.00
  • To include a thousands separator in the number, use #,###. We use the # symbol to avoid forcing Excel to display unnecessary zeros
  • To format numbers as percentages, just place a % after the format. For example, using the 0.0% format will cause 0.2534 to display as 25.3%
  • To give the numbers a colour, put the name of the colour in square brackets before the format, like this: [Red]0.0

More advanced formats

The formats that we have used so far only use one format for all numbers. In fact, Excel lets us specify four formats: one for positive numbers and one format for negative numbers, one for zeros and one for text – all in one cell. To do this, we use the semicolon to separate the different formats. For example, to format only negative numbers as blue, we can use 0.0;[Blue]-0.0;; In this example, because we have left the other sections blank, zeros will appear as empty cells on the worksheet.

If we combine the pieces of information from the last paragraph, we can find another useful format. Any cells with the ;;; format applied will hide any data in the cell. This can be useful if you want a formula in a particular cell, but don’t want to hide an entire row or column for it.

Another common case is where you have large numbers, but don’t need to see all the digits. In this case, it can be useful to just emphasize the important part of the number, by using this format: 0, This format will round to the nearest thousand, and remove the excess zeros. You can extend this to millions by using another comma, and it’s even possible to include an indicator that the number is shortened like this: 0,,”M”

There are many more special formats available, including changing the boundaries between the semicolons and date and time formats. Have a look at the further reading, below, for more information.

Number formats in XLCubed

XLCubed, being tightly integrated with Excel, allows you to specify number formats in two ways.

  1. For XLCubed value formulas, for example XL3Lookup and XL3ValueRankLookup, the number format of the containing cell can be modified in the way described above. In the same way as any normal Excel-based formula, the format is preserved when the value changes due to changes in your data.
  2. For XLCubed Grids, apply the format as above, then use the right-click menu, and choose Apply Format to Data. This asks XLCubed to maintain the format on the entire slice of your data. More detailed instructions can be found here.

Table of reference


Further reading

Hermann Grids, An optical Illusion Best Avoided

An interesting optical illusion is the so-called Hermann Grid illusion: the effect of seeing gray dots at the intersections of a black grid on a white background or a white grid on a black background.






While it’s an interesting optical illusion, it’s something we should avoid in management reporting:











Tables formatted with medium or thick black or gray borders tend to produce Hermann Grids. Just scan the table above and you should see the gray dots in the grid intersections.

To avoid this unpleasant and distracting effect, and to maximize the data-ink ratio follow this simple but very effective table design rule:

  • Avoid using dark and heavy grids
  • Use light gray grids instead











Above is the same table with light gray borders. This eliminates the Hermann Grid illusion and – by de-emphasizing the grid –  puts more emphasis on the numbers.

Here are some images I found on Google Image Search that show how popular it is to put your data behind Hermann Grids:























So I hope you are with me – get rid of the heavy grids and free your data!