#JT and #Jimmy Want You to #Martafy Your #Ugly #Charts

Charts are a staple of PowerPoint presentations. Unfortunately, most charts are as hard on the eyes as a Nick Nolte mugshot.

The lion's share of the blame for this goes to Microsoft, thanks to the wretched selection of "default" chart designs they've built into PowerPoint. Take for example this monstrosity:


CHART A: A sample chart built using PowerPoint's "default" bar chart style. #F*ugly


You would think that a graphic depicting Jimmy Fallon & Justin Timberlake's hilarious video poking fun of #hashtags could be a bit easier on the eyes—wouldn't you? 

Perhaps something more like this: 


CHART B: Martafied version of Chart A.

Better, right?

Let's take a step-by-step look at how to go from visually monotonous Chart A to Martafy'd Chart B in just a matter of minutes.


How to Make Your Charts Sexy Enough for Justin Timberlake (or the Board of Directors)


STEP 1: Remove all the "noise". 


Now that you've removed all that gobbledygook, your chart should look like this: 

CHART C: What CHART A will look like after you've completed Step 1. 

Now that we've taken everything we don't need or want OUT, we can selectively add and edit some things IN to make this baby more appealing.

STEP 2: Add a background image. 

Note: Not every chart needs or warrants a background image. This one, IMHO, does.

Sometimes a pure, clean white background is all that's required. Other times, a texture that hints at the chart's meaning or even a color gradient that adds "pop!" will do the trick. This is where we move more into the territory of Art > Science, so feel free to experiment. 

Anyway, here's how I tackled this particular slide:

First, I Googled "Jimmy Fallon & JT #hashtag video", filtered for "images", filtered for size "large," and found one with the NBC logo embedded on the left. It totally captured the vibe of the video, so I couldn't resist. 

I pasted the image onto my slide, but as you can see, it pastes the image ON TOP OF the actual chart, obscuring the title:


Uh oh. The picture is covering up part of our title!

So my next move was to select the image and choose SEND TO BACK from the ARRANGE option in PowerPoint: 

YIKES, now things look worse than ever, right? Don't panic, it's all going to be okay!

STEP 3: Resize your background image

In order to make the background image fill the whole slide, select the image and grab one corner (I started with the left bottom corner), hold down the shift key, and use your mouse to drag that image out till it touches the edge of your slide.

Like so:

Resizing your background image.

If your image, like mine, is not sized for your slide, you'll have to crop it, but first it needs to scale up and fill the full slide. 

Repeat the same process, but using the top right-hand corner and pulling up. Don't forget to hold down the shift key! That's what keeps your image proportionate as it scales. Otherwise, it will get all stretched out and weird-looking.

So now the slide looks like this: 


The image has been resized and cropped to fill the entire slide.

From here, I decided to recolor the image to "grayscale" and make it partially transparent so that visually it's less dominant than the bar chart.

To recolor, you first select the image and then go to FORMAT PICTURE > RECOLOR, like so: 


Next, set the transparency to 50%.  

Now, let's change that wretched default blue gradient fill for the bar graph to a simple solid black, and adjust its positioning so it's flush with the bottom edge of our slide. 

I don't know about you, but I can't stand the default Microsoft fonts. This one happens to be a font called Calibri. If you use it, seven kittens will die. 

Do you want seven kittens to die?  Of course not. Which brings us to step 4...

STEP 4: Replace the awful default font with an awesome one.

You can find lots of awesome, free fonts at Font Squirrel. I get a lot of my fonts at MyFonts.com (ironically), and in this case, I chose Code Pro Demo, because I thought it felt apropos of #JT and #Jimmy: 

Step 5: Add some labels. 

Remember in step 1 where I told you to delete the axes and labels (and you probably freaked out just a little)? Well, here's where we add the labels back in—on our own terms. 

You see, PowerPoint tries to force you to place and align the axis labels the way they think you should. And I think we can all agree that their sense of design leaves something to be desired (ahem). 

So we're going to add in our labels using the same sexy Code Prom Demo font, and with a bit of pizzazz: 

CHART D: Aligning chart labels with precision and style

To create this sort of label, simply create a new text box, type your label, change the font (and color in this case, since default color is black), then rotate the text box 90 degrees to the left (counter-clockwise). 

To align all of the labels uniformly, I chose to first right-align the text within the text box, then place the right-hand edge of the text box along the top, right-most edge of each bar. 

You may also have noticed that my bars look fatter in the last image than previously. Indeed they are! I wanted to give the chart more "weight," so I selected my chart, went to the FORMAT menu in PowerPoint, and under OPTIONS, I changed the GAP WIDTH setting from the default 150% to 50%. 

Copy/paste your rotated text box 6x and then change the label and align each into its corresponding bar. I had to reduce the font size for a few of the labels because my bars were so much shorter, but that is not always necessary.

Almost done! 

Now, we get to the final finessing... 

STEP 6: Tweak as needed to draw the eye to your key point.

Again, we're in Art > Science territory, so feel free to experiment with "tweaks" your own way.  

In this particular case, I decided to move the chart title down lower on the page, so it looked less like a hat on JT's head and more like something related to the bars on the page.  Then I decreased the font size from 40pt to 28 pt for better fit. I made the word "ABOUT" only 18 point (again, mostly for fit but also for emphasis on the other, more important words).

Next, I selected the SHAPE tool and created a rectangle that spans the width of the slide; changed the fill color to white; and set the transparency to 40%. By default, PowerPoint places the newest piece of content on TOP of all other layers, so now I had to rearrange my layers such that this new rectangle was in front of the background image but behind everything else. 

This view shows all of the working layers in this slide. The newest content is always placed on top.

You can drag and drop your layer easily by using the REORDER option.

At this point, I noticed that JT is pointing... and that if I simply flipped the image horizontally, his finger would point right at the two biggest bars in the chart. 

How to flip your background image so the finger points at the key data.

VOILA! JT's finger points right at our key data!

Which brings us to our final step...

STEP 7: Add color to emphasize your key point. 

I chose Martafy! pink, of course. 

The final product, CHART B!

I did make a few minor placement adjustments to the chart, just inching it over a few pixels to the left so as to give a bit of space between the pink bars and JT's finger. Most people don't notice a few pixels, but it's the sort of thing that will keep me up all night.

For those of you that would like a 'take-home' copy of these how-to guide, you can grab a PDF version of it here. It's not identical to this post, but it will do in a pinch.

Till next time!