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Charley's Swipe File #4

Displays like this are known as "small multiples" or "trellis displays" or "panel charts." They're designed to help readers understand three-dimenstional data.


by Charley Kyd, MBA
Microsoft Excel MVP, 2005-2014
The Father of Spreadsheet Dashboard Reports

(Many of my swipe files use Greeking, which is fake Latin. It helps you ignore the textual content and focus on the actual charts and tables.)

This professional-quality Excel figure could be called a panel chart, a trellis chart, or a small-multiples chart. It shows three dimensions of data.Each set of swipe files comes with two PDFs for documentation: a general, eight-page "Getting Started" document, and a two-page document specific to the current swipe file.

Usage Ideas

Use this type of display to compare the same measure for many categories of performance. You could use it for products, divisions, departments, vendors, customers, web pages, sales regions, countries, and so on.

The unit of measure could be percentage change, your currency, number of visitors, number of days, headcount, a measure of weight, profit margin, return on investment, etc.

From the documentation for this swipe file...

This display shows three dimensions of data. For each of 12 entities (dimension 1) it shows trends in the values (dimension 2) of the same measure over time (dimension 3).

Unlike typical dashboard reports, all charts have the same X and Y axis values. This easily allows you to compare the relative performance of many measures.

In The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Edward Tufte called displays like this "small multiples".

Later, William Cleveland coined the term "trellis displays". Others call them "panel charts".

Whatever you call them, displays like this can help you to better understand your three-dimensional data.

The greatest challenge in producing displays like this is to handle the axis labels effectively in Excel. I worked for a long time to find the best way to do this. Here’s the final design approach:

(Continued in the documentation.)

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