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How conditional formatting can improve your spreadsheets


With the rise in popularity of IT, many people are starting to experiment with the use of Excel. This is true in many different businesses and environments. This has led to many impressive spreadsheet templates and techniques being shown off on the internet.

But, as in most circumstances where a complex tool is rediscovered and reaches a new level of popularity, the basics are often forgotten. Conditional formatting is one of the more basic functions of Excel.

Conditional formatting is a certain format a cell is told to take by the administrator under certain conditions. A simple example is a cell being instructed by a programmer to turn red if it is filled with a certain number or word, or filled with any information.

Still, it can be one of the most effective functions in Excel. With correct use, it can be used to highlight or show important processes and outcomes for the selection and attention by those operating it. A simple example is the conditional highlighting of low stock in a given product to managers and employees. This means that managers know what they need to order, what sells, and why doesn’t. So, conditional formatting can be a useful business tool as well as a technological one.

But, there are some other roles conditional formatting can play to make your spreadsheet more versatile and dynamic. Below, we outline a few that we think could be used by your company. These include roles that can streamline your spreadsheets functions. They can also give you a clearer and more versatile spreadsheet. This, in turn, can give you an edge over your competition in both technology and in business.

How conditional formatting can improve the versatility of your spreadsheet

As mentioned above, conditional formatting can have a lot of perks for users. This is because more complex functions can be used in conditional formatting. As indicated above, a cell can be formatted to turn red if a stock is low. This would be a simple matter of using a conditional formatting formula in the cell with an IF function. So, if the number of a certain product in stock drops below a set number (e.g. IF=C2<10), then the cell would glow red.

Below are just a few other examples of some of the unique functions conditional formatting can give your spreadsheet.

The use of “Traffic light” systems

Traffic light systems are a commonly used tool on business and technology. It’s a simple way of indicating whether something is in a good state to operate on (green), undertaken with caution (orange or yellow), or avoided (red).

This is a simple and highly effective way to illustrate everything from stock count to the best decision to make for investing money.

Depending on what you format into each cell, you can create some pretty complex traffic light systems. These can help you or a colleague make an important decision or even automate some processes. In business, it can also be used to produce reports that look professional and are easy to understand.

In either case, this is a key function of conditional formatting that should be understood by anyone planning on using this function.

Improving the separation of data

Conditional formatting doesn’t just stop at coloring cells. You can use different fonts, sizes and effects like italic, bold and underlined text to make certain data groups standout.

This is great for making certain data groups stand out in a subtle, but clear, way. You can simply use VLOOKUP functions in the formatting rules and another sheet to group data together and make them appear visually separate in the main spreadsheet. This can help with reports or analyzing large amounts of data, as well as help with the function below.

Illustrating trends and patterns on data

By using much of the same techniques as above, as well as careful use of IF functions, you can show how data changes as well as how it’s grouped.

This can help when you’re trying to analyze or report large groups of complex data to show where trends are and if there are any patterns noticeable. This can help your spreadsheet stand out and make your work easier, whether in technology, business, or science.

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