Tables are everywhere in business – price lists, KPI comparisons, project meetings, quarter review meet-ups, accounting audits… Sounds familiar? We use tables a lot, they are one of the most common ways to present data. Making a table in PowerPoint or Excel is simple and quick. However, usually, those tables look pretty boring. It’s time to change that!
Let me show you four easy steps you can use to quickly change default data tables into more attractive table graphics.
All the presented table makeovers you’re about to see are done using only standard MS Office PowerPoint tools. You don’t need any special software, only your computer and a bit of imagination. Let’s have a quick view of how tables can be redesigned.
Before and After Table Redesign
Let’s have a look at this PowerPoint table comparing three product features. Using the standard table style it looks like this – a grid with black lines and plain white cells filling:
For more table examples, check out this table graphics collection here.
Below I put together four steps that are easy to follow. Even if you don’t feel like a graphic designer, you can do it :).
1. Replace the grid of your standard presentation table
The table cell borders are there to separate the content of your table cells. They are far less important than the content itself. So make them look less important, too. Replace the high contrast black grid with light gray. Or remove them completely, if you have wide table margins. See below:
Your tables will look more professional without the default black borders. If you want to keep them, at least get rid of outside ones. You can change the border by clicking on the table itself and then selecting in the PPT menu: Design: Borders.
2. Add shapes to table columns and rows headers
The next step is to enrich the table headers. This will make your table more visually attractive. Simply adding an arrow shape behind the table will do the trick.
Then adjust the colors of the shapes. Depending on what the goal of the presentation slide is, select the colors:
- use vivid colors like I have below if you want people to focus on that part – in this case the three products in my example.
- use more calm colors for less important parts (e.g. shades of gray or blue)
Don’t forget to check if the header text is still readable after you add colors. Ensure the contrast is high enough – change the header font color to white from black if needed.
3. Illustrate with icons
If you have a few more minutes and want to move your tables to the next level, enrich them further with pictograms. Using the symbols related to the table items creates a strong visual association. That helps us to remember better the information inside the table.
In the product table example, I replaced the three features with simple flat icons – a shield for security, a gauge for efficiency, and cogs representing production.
Notice also I replaced the third column with discrete Yes / No values but Check / Uncheck icons.
If you need to represent a specific concept with a symbol, check my list of common business concept visualization ideas. I brainstormed there how to illustrate things like strategy, deadlines, taxes… Let me know if I missed anything.
By adding small pictures you can focus people’s attention on the points you want: whether you want to emphasize the functionality of a product, status of a project or numeric values.
4. Highlight the key table cell content
Usually, the table contains one key piece of information you want to show in the context of other table data. Make this key-value standout. The easiest thing is to make the text or number bold or use a different color. However, to make it visually more attractive, I’d suggest other ways of highlighting:
- make the table cell dark and the text white. This way the whole cell will stand out
- add an extra shape e.g. a circle with an outline and transparent filling over the table. Or even better, add a hand drawn swoosh shape. Using such a style will add personality to the table – like you marked it with a pen on paper.
That’s all. Four tricks you can use to make your presentation tables fancier:
- Replace the default black table grid
- Add shapes under the table headers
- Illustrate items with icons to create a mnemonic association
- Highlight the key information in the table.
Use these simple do-it-yourself instructions to create an engaging infographic table designs using only PowerPoint shapes, markers and icons.
If you like the slides above, you can download them directly here:
See the full instruction at this Slideshare presentation:
Let me know if you can apply those steps in your presentation. What kind of visual symbols would you use more often: markers or icons? Share in the comments below.