Article: The Golden Rules of Spreadsheet Design

7 Rules on How to Design It, Sell It, and Sell It Again


Have you ever wondered why everyone doesn’t use a spreadsheet like the one you’ve got? After all, your spreadsheet takes all of the painstaking work out of the task at hand, leaving you with more time to do the things you enjoy. Well, not everyone has the skills to build spreadsheets like the one you’ve got. And even if they did, would they have time to sit down and do it? Well, perhaps they don’t have the skills or the time and would be interested in one just like yours. But wait, they can’t use yours because they would have to know a bunch of tricks to get it to work right. But… what if you tweaked the functionality to be more automated so that those little tricks won’t be necessary. Well, if you’re thinking along these lines about an awesome spreadsheet you’ve got, then you’re headed down the path of a money making opportunity that many skilled spreadsheet users have yet to explore. This article will help you understand the “Golden Rules of Spreadsheet Design” and how to build spreadsheets for selling.

Rule #1: Simplicity is King

–       The less work required for the user, the more pleasant the user experience. Automate wherever possible.

–       Imagine where users might make errors and eliminate the opportunity for mistakes. Error-proof spreadsheets tend to live longer.

–       Move back-end calculations to a tab out of sight and out of mind. You don’t even want to give the user any ideas. The best design is where the user plugs in the variables and the spreadsheet spits out the result in the adjacent cell.

Rule #2: Color Coding is Key

–       Make the color of input fields a different color from output or formula fields. The standard color for an input field is white, which stands out more when the background is a different color

–       Make the text in variable fields a different color from formula text color. Once the user gets used to this style, they automatically know which fields might need to be changed or updated

–       Make sure the text and background colors of a cell are contrasting colors. Difficult-to-read text simply does not get read.

–       Make the results field a color and size that jumps out at the user. After all, it’s the most important field in the spreadsheet.

–       Use a heading for each tab and make the font larger and bold so the user is clear on where they are in the spreadsheet

Rule #3: Graphics Get the Gold

–       People are very impressed by graphics in spreadsheets. It adds a human element to a tool most know for number crunching. Pictures and style elements work wonders if used effectively in spreadsheets

–       Add gradients or color elements to buttons and other shapes. This gives your spreadsheet a touch of style beyond a quick and dirty spreadsheet

–       Add graphs and charts where applicable. Take the design of the graph to the next level using the tools available in the right click menu. Make the graphs eye-catching, yet fitting for the spreadsheet application

–       Add navigation buttons with hyperlinks to help people navigate the file. Give your spreadsheet a web-page feel that people are familiar with. You might even include a button that hyperlinks to your website or profile page so that users can find more of your spreadsheets when they are ready

Rule #4: Flexibility Opens the Market

–       Design your spreadsheet for many different applications. Let users plug in their own items to be tracked or variable inputs. You never know the intricate details of other peoples’ needs.

–       As in Rule #1, keep it simple. Simple is inherently flexible, that’s the genius of it.

Rule #5: Displays Make Sales

–       Create screenshots that display the spreadsheet as it will be in full use mode. Use dummy data to fill up the spreadsheet for the screenshots. This gives the user an understanding for what the spreadsheet will look like with their data input

–       Try to take screenshots from a variety of tabs showing key features of the spreadsheet. It doesn’t hurt to show detail here as well, especially if you have included some slick graphics

–       Create a short video that walks potential users through the spreadsheet. Highlight key capabilities and functions. Upload the video to Youtube and other video sharing sites. Make sure to let them know where they can get the spreadsheet from, such as your file landing page. Also include the link to your video in your file upload. This will pull the video into the page so that potential buyers can get an even closer look at the file

Rule #6: The Text Tells All

–       If you don't tell the potential buyer how your spreadsheet can be used, chances are that they won't buy. Leave little to the buyer's imagination. The same is true for the search engines. The more detialed and keyword rich text you provide, the better chances you have for both attracting buyers and moving up in search engine ranking

–       Organize your text in a way that people can easily digest the information. As powerpoint has taught us all, bullet points, numbering, and grouping ideas works wonders for the human mind.

Rule #7: Test or Be Tested

–       Use the spreadsheet yourself for a week or more to make sure all of the bugs are worked out. You’ll come up with more and more improvement ideas as the testing period passes. Making the needed changes will only make your spreadsheet that much more desirable.

–       Keep a log of everything that needs to be fixed or improved in the spreadsheet. Make time to go back and make the needed changes before you start selling it. If you've already released the spreadsheet for sell, You can always make upgrade releases after significant changes have been made.

–       Get input from others on how the spreadsheet could be a more useful resource. Let them use the spreadsheet to see what issues they run into and continue to simplify.

There they are…the Golden Rules of Spreadsheet Design. These techniques will help you make spreadsheets that others can simply download and start using without much trouble. They will also make it clear why people should buy your spreadsheet as opposed to someone else’s. A good approach would be to benchmark the style and layout of well designed software or websites. This way, people feel like they are using something familiar and working with the spreadsheet will feels natural and more comfortable. - Sell Spreadsheets Banner

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