Good Spreadsheet Design Strategies

 A good spreadsheet design should be organized, easy to read and understand, and free of errors. Here are a few specific things to consider when designing a spreadsheet:

  • Use a clear and consistent layout: Organize your data in a way that makes sense and is easy to follow. Use headings and subheadings, and align text and numbers neatly in cells. I always suggest hiding gridlines and then making your own where necessary with a lighter line style.
  • Use formatting wisely: Use formatting, such as font size, color, and bolding, to draw attention to important information and make it easy to scan the spreadsheet.
  • Avoid errors: Make sure your formulas are correct and that you have used the appropriate formulas for the calculations you are trying to perform. Double-check your work to catch any mistakes. Sanity checks / self-error checking formulas are very important in all the financial models I've built.
  • Use formatting to highlight key information: Use formatting to highlight key information, such as negative numbers or text that needs to be reviewed. I use this when there is a target goal and a number will highlight if this goal is achieved. This is shown in a recent KPI dashboard spreadsheet I did for a general contractor.
  • Use clear and descriptive names: Use clear and descriptive names for your worksheets and ranges to make it easier to understand what the data represents.
  • Use data validation: Use data validation to ensure that only appropriate data is entered into a cell. This can help prevent errors and improve the accuracy of your spreadsheet.
  • Use filters: Use filters to allow users to view specific subsets of data and to hide irrelevant information. This is good in Excel, and in Google Sheet spreadsheets there are filter formulas that can be setup to make the process even more seamless. Here is an example template with multiple criteria filtering. Excel is working on dynamic arrays for its main version, but is having trouble implementing (as of January 2023).

By following these guidelines, you can design a spreadsheet that is easy to read, understand, and use. Here are my best-in-practice spreadsheet templates.

Article found in Accounting and Finance.