When Standard Color Schemes Happen to Good Charts

The Challenge: Standards can become Stale


In a world that is dominated by numbers and calculations it can be difficult to create interesting and compelling visuals. Some use to the phrase “death by PowerPoint” as a commentary on the rampant lack-luster implementation of such a robust presentation tool. I know you know what I am talking about...too many slides, too much text, little if any compelling and relevant graphics.

I will take this concept a step further with regard to the hum-drum presentation of analytical data that is happening in virtually every department, every industry, I would go so far as to guess that it is happening every day.

I firmly believe that within every business professionals lives a creative side that has been stifled by the “default” color scheme of Microsoft Excel. This is not to diminish the work of the developers, focus groups, usability engineers, and what I am sure was a complex and comprehensive feature testing of this default color scheme. It is just time for a change.

In this sea of sameness, why not use your analytical visuals extend your brand?


Use the company’s colors to create a new color scheme for all your Microsoft Excel Spreadsheets and Charts.


Figure 1: Example of the default color schemeFigure 1: Example of the default color scheme

While the colors provide high contrast when projected overhead, and when printed, they do little to enhance the graphic or relate the data to what it represents.


If the numbers relate to the business, what not use the good business practice of extending your brand visibility, even when presenting information internally?


As most savvy Excel users will tell you, it is simple to change the color of a slice in a pie chart...


Double-click the slice to access the Format Data Point dialogue box (everyone knows that!).



Figure 2: Changing the color of a slice via the Format Data Point dialog boxFigure 2: Changing the color of a slice via the Format Data Point dialog box

How do you define your own colors—your own brand-based colors—to display in the color-picker?

The Solution: Modify the Standard Colors for Chart Fills


How to Modify the Standard Colors for Chart Fills


  1. To modify the standard colors for an Excel document, from the Tools menu, choose Options.

  2. In the Options dialog box, click the Color tab.

  3. Pick one of the standard colors for Chart Fills and click Modify.

  4. Figure 3. Options dialog boxFigure 3. Options dialog box

  5. Pick any color from the color wheel colors on the Standard tab and click OK to apply.

  6. Figure 4. Colors dialog box - Standard TabFigure 4. Colors dialog box - Standard Tab


    Click the Custom tab, and enter a specific RGB value (which is what I did for my Dezign Maven signature colors).

    Figure 5. Colors dialog box - Custom Tab

    Figure 5. Colors dialog box - Custom Tab

    Note: On the Custom tab you can use the slider to create monochromatic values based on a specific color.

  7. Repeat steps 3 and 4 to define a brand-based color scheme for charts.
  8.  Figure 6. Options dialog boxFigure 6. Options dialog box


    As these are the colors used by Excel for chart fills, the chart colors are updated automatically once you click OK in the Options dialog box to apply the modifications.

     Figure 7. Example of the custom color schemeFigure 7. Example of the custom color scheme


So that is it. With a few simple changes you can change the look of your charts. The best part is you can copy you color modifications to your other Excel documents with very little effort.


I hope you have found this post useful. Now go forth and save your department from being washed away with boredom in the sea of standard color!


Until next time.



 Xanthé Horste (DeZign Maven) ~Xanthé Horste (DeZign Maven)