Bottom Line: In this second episode of the Ultimate Excel Dashboard Tutorial Series you will learn how to design a beautiful darkened image background and a stunning gradient tile design for your Interactive Excel Dashboard.
Skill Level: Advanced
Background Image: Found on Pixabay
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The ultimate Excel Dashboard Tutorial Series
In our Ultimate Excel Dashboard tutorial series you will learn how to create a state-of-the-art interactive Excel Dashboard with many outstanding and custom-built features. This tutorial series will cover how to
- create a basic interactive Excel dashboard with pivot charts and slicers
- design a beautiful dashboard background and gradient tile design [you are here]
- create a modern dashboard slicer design
- auto-refresh dashboard pivot charts when source data changes
- create interactive dashboard info buttons
- create interactive dashboard tabs
- create a custom interactive settings menu with modern radio and toggle buttons
By completing this tutorial series you will learn how to visualise your data and bring it to life in a completely stunning way. The great variety of different topics covered during the process will develop and strongly improve your overall Excel skillset.
Info: In this dashboard we use features that are only available in the latest version of Excel (included in Microsoft 365). If you want to are still using an older version of Excel, we recommend to upgrade to Microsoft 365 to have full access to all features.
Excel Dashboard Background & Tile Design Concept
What are the requirements an Excel dashboard background and tile design have to meet?
The most important requirement is that they don’t detract the viewer from the actually important contents and messages of the dashboard. On top of that, it is always desirable to make it visually appealing so that the viewer has the desire to look at the whole thing, not only because he has to but because he wants to!
To meet both these requirements, we will use advanced design techniques and merge them with the overall concept of creating contrast: By darkening the background and designing the dashboard tiles in a more colourful gradient way, the viewer will automatically focus on the center of the dashboard and feel more comfortable when looking at the actual insights.
Above, you can see the final result that we want to create. I will lead you through every single step to create this and also alternative designs within a few simple steps.
Step 1 - Prepare the Excel Dashboard Background
For the Excel Dashboard Background we recommend to use a high resolution image as a starting point. In our Ultimate Excel Dashboard we used an high resolution black-and-white image with a nice city skyline. If you want to use the same image, you can download the original image here.
Image Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/manhattan-empire-state-building-336708
In order to darken the original image (left) and get the result we see above (right), we can simply use PowerPoint. In there, we insert the original image, right-click and go to the Formatting Area > Picture Tab > Picture Corrections Section. And there we adjust the Image Brightness to a really negative value. Something close to -80% is always a good reference value.
After that, we only have to save the image again, so that we can easily set it as a background image in our Excel Dashboard file later. By default, PowerPoint saves images as an PNG and I recommend to just leave that way and use that format. Really important at this point: The dimensions and resolution of the darkened image fully depend on the dimensions and resolution of the original image. If you use a 1920 x 1080 (HD) image as original input, the output will have similar dimensions and that will increase the probability that the image will fill out the whole background in our Excel Dashboard file. Otherwise, if you use a smaller image or somehow resize the output image, you take the risk of resulting in a repeating background image in your Excel file.
Step 2 - Prepare Basic Excel Dashboard Tile Design Shape
The dashboard tiles are the filled boxes in which the charts and titles will be placed in. For the tile design preparation we stay in PowerPoint.
In order to have the whole collection of tiles have a common gradient color design, we need to combine all tiles in one big shape. That’s why we will start with one big rectangle shape and than iteratively cut out pieces to create single tiles within that shape.
A really helpful assisting tool for this tasks are the Guide Lines. You can easily insert them with a right-click outside of your editing area an then selecting Guides in the right-click-menu. You can insert horizontal and vertical guide lines and position them by simply dragging them anywhere you would like. With these Guide Lines we will mark the parts of the dashboard that we want to cut out later. For our tile design we use two vertical and one horizontal guide line.
After that, we start inserting additional rectangle shapes. We start with the first one, make it really tight and place it on top of the horizontal guide line in order to separate the top tile from the lower ones on the left side and in the center. We repeat the same action two more times and place the shapes in way that does further tile separations for us. Once we have placed them all, we need to merge them with our actual big shape. For that, we first have to select the big shape, and then by holding the ctrl key, we add the three cut-out-shapes to the selection. With all four shapes selected in the correct order, we go to Shape Format Tab > Merge Shapes and select the operation Subtract. This will subtract the three cut-out-shapes from our one big shape and transform it into the basic tile design shape with four separated tiles in it.
Step 3 - Color Excel Dashboard Tile Design Shape
Now that we have one big cohesive tile design shape, we can apply gradient colouring across all tiles at one. We can simply go to the Formatting Area > Fill and instead of Solid Fill we select Gradient Fill. We want to have a look at two different gradient colouring concepts.
Two-Color Gradient Style
For the two-color gradient style we need two color marks in the gradient settings area that are both positioned at 0% and 100%. Then we simply need to find two good looking colors and adjust the transparency settings for each color. For our Ultimate Excel Dashboard we chose the colors black (left) and violet (right). Subsequently, we set the transparency of both colors to 20%.
For other two-color gradient style concepts I recommend to have a look at the video linked above.
Three-Color Gradient Style
For the three-color gradient style we need three color marks in the gradient settings area that are both positioned at 0%, 50% and 100%. For three colors it is a nice idea to change the angle to diagonal (45°). In general, the three colors shouldn’t differentiate from each other too much as that would cause too much distraction for the viewer. For the color selection, I recommend to either use the same color for the two outer color marks and a slightly brighter color in the center (e.g. black – grey – black) , or alternative use three gradiently increasing or decreasing colors of the same main color tone (e.g. dark blue – blue – light blue).
To get a better idea of these three-color gradient concepts I recommend to have a look at the video linked above.
Step 4 - Transfer into Excel
Now that we have prepared both components, we can switch over to our Excel dashboard file where we have a blank spreadsheet for now.
Insert Excel Dashboard Background Image
For the background, we start by going to the Page Layout Tab and removing the Gridlines checkmark. After that, we click on Background and select the prepared image in the opening file selection window. With the right dimensions of the image and the right view settings (we have a zoom level of 140%), the background image should perfectly fill out the whole screen.
Insert Excel Dashboard Tile Design
Before we insert the prepared tile design, we need to insert a simple rectangle shape for the header bar of the dashboard. After that, we copy and paste the prepared tile design over from PowerPoint and bring in into the desired position. It is preferable to align the header bar with the gradient design of the tile design shape. Now we only need to add another black rectangle below the tiles – this will be the area for the slicers of our dashboard.
That’s already it for this second episode of the Ultimate Excel Dashboard tutorial series. We recommend to continue with the next episode of this Ultimate Excel Dashboard tutorial series in order to make this dashboard even more awesome than it already is.
You can download the Basic Dashboard Excel File in our Download Area.