Excel Charts meet William Playfair

Are you sure you can recognize an Excel chart from miles away? I thought that too. Then I started playing with some data visualization historical milestones and now I’m not so sure. Trying to recreate these charts in Excel is a great way to improve your Excel skills and pay a humble tribute to the data visualization founding fathers (their charts always look better).

Here, the challenge is to recreate the original chart without cheating: a single chart (no overlapping charts), no shapes/clipart to display data, and, obviously, no Photoshop. Here is my rendition of Playfair’s prices of wheat and weekly wages:

Excel chart replicating a chart by William Playfair
Is this the original or the Excel replica?

Compare it to the original above. There are some details that I would like to improve (fonts, custom number formats) but it came out closer than I expected. Excel doesn’t like areas in front of columns, and that was the major challenge.

Playfair’s wheat prices chart was my second chart. I started with a simpler one, England exports:

Excel replica of William Playfair's imports and exports chart
Excel replica of William Playfair’s imports and exports chart.

And here is the original:

William Playfair's imports and exports original chart
William Playfair’s imports and exports original chart.

This shows that there is enough design flexibility in Excel to make charts that don’t look like Excel charts. You can create a chart that reflects you, your style, your sense of beauty, and how this data should be presented. Yes, it’s plain old Excel, but they don’t know it, do they?