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6 Design Hacks to Turn Boring PowerPoint Charts into Creative Picture Charts

6 Design Hacks to Turn Boring PowerPoint Charts into Creative Picture Charts

Anuj Malhotra

Anuj Malhotra

April 21 2017

Charts have become ubiquitous part of business presentations. They are visually impactful ways to represent your data whether you are talking about comparisons, trends, or relationships. If the graphs and charts are decently designed, they quickly communicate the message to the audience. Investors and analysts can know at a glance the growth in sales or fluctuations in trends. Imagine trying to decipher the same from a pile of numbers!


That said, the use of column charts consisting of a stack of rectangular bars is hardly inspiring and attention-grabbing. The rectangular bars have been done to death. Some have seen it so much that the minute they see the column charts on a slide, they instantly tune off. How to bring back the love for charts and data?  How about trying creative PowerPoint charts like Picture Charts!


Picture Charts involve using images, icons and shapes to show the concept being discussed. Worried they would look kiddish? Not if you choose kiddish images and icons. Use relevant, professional icons and your picture chart would be a welcome change for the audience. Picture Charts are also useful if you wish to use them in an infographic or a marketing collateral which warrant use of creative data visualizations.


Hack #1- Replace Bars with Image/Icon


This is the most basic and simplest way to create a picture chart. Based on the topic of the chart, find a relevant image or icon from the web. Take the example of a presentation chart from the education industry we have shown below.  


PowerPoint Charts and Graphs- Education Column Chart


Doesn’t it look more impressive than the ordinary column chart! Here’s how we re-designed it:


Step 1- Find a professional icon & save it as an image
If the chart was say on attendance data, a pencil icon would have been suitable. If it was on graduates passouts, a student icon wearing a graduation hat would have been a perfect representation. Similarly, a ruler icon or other objects frequently used in classroom setting can add the right flavor to your chart. Since the chart we picked up happened to talk about pass percentages, we chose this graduation hat and pencil professional PowerPoint diagram and saved it as an image in PNG format.


Step 2- Use Picture Fill to format the bars
Select the rectangular column bars, right click and click Format Data Series. A Format Data Series window will open to the right. Go to the Fill & Line tab and under Fill, select the Picture or texture fill radio button (see the screenshot below). Locate the image on your system and open it.


Click Format Data Series


Step 3- Reduce the Gap Width

When you insert a picture into a column, it will take the shape of the rectangle’s width. The images might look squished and ugly upon adding. But there’s a PowerPoint hack to smooth out the image and make it look perfect. Here’s it. Go to the Series Options tab under Format Data Series. Reduce the Gap Width to 0% or a small number until the image appears in its right dimension (see the screenshot below). The default gap width in our slide was 219% which we reduced to 8%.


Reduce Gap Width till images appear in their right proportion


Step 4- Add or Remove Chart Elements

Let’s remove all the redundant elements from the chart to make it look even better. Simply click on the chart area that’ll open 3 menus to the right of the chart. Click on the + menu (Chart Elements) and remove the elements you do not need (see the screenshot below). For instance, in this case we did not need the Chart Title and Legend. We deselected that.
If you want to show the exact data numbers next to the bars, simply select the Data Labels option from the Chart Elements menu (see the screenshot below).


Add Data Labels and Remove the redundant chart elements


We also gave a light gray background fill to the slide and chose an impressive font using the same colors as that of the image in the chart. Basically, this is a 2-minute hack: Find the image, fill the columns with the picture chosen and reduce gap width to get the right proportions- that’s all!


Hack #2- Change the Color of Each Picture Bar


It’s not necessary to add the same visual in all bars. PowerPoint allows us to format each data point individually too. We can do two things over here-


  • Use the same visual for each data point but in different colors
  • Use a different image for each data point


Using the same icon/image in different colors

The benefit of choosing icons to represent your data is that it can be customized as per your branding colors. For example, in the chart below, we downloaded an icon of a building since the data was on real estate. Being a vector icon, we chose different shades of the same color and saved each building as an image.


Real Estate PowerPoint chart


Using a different icon/image for each data point

Likewise, you can choose a separate image for each data point if you are showing comparison between different brands. 


Creative PPT Chart using Pictures in Bars


Steps to Create This Picture Chart


Double click on a single rectangular bar till it gets highlighted. Right click on the selected bar and click Format Data Point (see the screenshot below). Since only one data point was selected, PowerPoint shows Format Data Point this time instead of Format Data Series.


Click Format Data Point


The rest steps are the same- A Format Data Point window will open on the right. Use the Picture or texture fill to insert the image for each data point. Increase or decrease the Gap Width to make images proportional.


Hack #3- Add an Icon/Image Behind Each Default Bar


The third way to create a picture chart is to insert the basic, default column chart on your slide. No need to click Picture fill to insert an icon or image. Here, we will insert an image onto the slide and superimpose the rectangular bars and image so that to the audience, it will appear as though images have been used. Confused? Look at the column chart on soft drink consumption in the slide below:


Soft Drink Consumption PowerPoint Chart


How This Chart Was Created:


Step 1- Insert a Column Chart

Insert a chart and edit the same as per your data:


Insert Column Chart


Step 2- Superimpose Icon and the Chart

When you download an icon, customize it to match the dimensions of the rectangular bars. Use the same width as that of the bars. Here is an icon of a soft drink bottle that we customized to match the bars:


Insert Icons


Select these icons, go to the Format tab and click Send Backward > Send to Back (see the screenshot below):


Send icon behind the rectangular bars


Hack #4- Use Stacks in Bars


Another creative use of images in charts is to stack them up. An icon might not look good taking up so much space on a chart. When that happens, you can use this hack. Stacks of that icon will make the slide look creative and add interest to otherwise boring data. Here’s an example of a stacked column chart:


Stacked PowerPoint Chart


Steps to Create This Picture Chart


Step 1 (same)- Insert Picture Using Picture Fill

Select the rectangular bars, right click and click Format Data Series. Select the Picture or texture fill radio button from the Fill menu.


Step 2 (New)- Use the Stack option

As soon as you locate the file on your system and click Open, the default Stretch option is highlighted. Select the Stack radio button (see the screenshot below) and the image will appear in stacks giving a unique look to your chart!


Stack the image


Cool, isn’t it?


Hack #5- Use Images + Icons


Addition of small design elements can create a big difference in the look of your chart design. So, in this fifth hack we will be creating a basic picture chart but at the same time also add icons next to each picture bar. We are doing this not just to make the chart look more pretty but to add more value to the data. Check out the chart on world’s top 5 tallest countries below. Flag icons of each country are a value addition making the whole slide look more informative and attention-grabbing at the same time.


Top 5 Tallest Countries PowerPoint Chart


Notice how the vertical axis in this chart is at the top rather than the default bottom. Also notice how the data labels are aligned perfectly in one line. Learn how to do these tweaks to your chart from the steps below:


Steps to Create This Picture Chart


Step 1 (same)- Insert Picture Using Picture Fill


Step 2 (same)- Reduce the Gap Width to Make Images Proportional


Step 3 (new)- Position the Horizontal Axis at Top
The default axis position is at the bottom of the rectangular bars. Click on the horizontal axis at the bottom, right click and click Format Axis (see the screenshot below).


Click Format Axis


The Format Axis menu will open to the right. Click the Axis Options tab (corer right), open the Labels menu and change the Label Position from default Low to High (see the screenshot below):


Change the Label Position from Low to High


Step 4- Add Icons below the Top Axis


It’s your wish to add icons (flags of the respective countries in this case) below the top axis or below the images. Ideally, icons would look good below the axis. You have to add the icons manually to the slide and manually position the same.


Step 5- Add Data Labels

We can add data values to the slide to make it even easier for the audience to interpret the data. Simply click on the chart area and the + menu (Chart Elements) to the right and select Data Labels (see the screenshot below). Select each data point individually and move it to the desired location (we moved each data label a little higher and below the flags). In the process, gray lines will be formed between the start position and the end position. Simply click on the gray lines and press Delete.


Add data labels and manually move them to desired location


Done! The slide looks chart perfect.


Hack #6- Place the Column Chart on an Image


Another innovative use of a picture chart is to add a realistic image of the subject being discussed and place the column chart on that image. To help you understand what we mean, take a look at the picture chart on truck accidents on highways below. The image of the truck immediately tells you the slide is on trucks and the empty back of the truck is creatively used to place the data.
Notice how the rectangular bars in the column chart are also pictorially designed with each bar resembling a truck. It’s your discretion however to use a normal column chart or further make modifications to the chart like we did. Either way, the chart looks innovative and stands out from usual charts and graphs.


Truck Crashes PowerPoint Chart


How to Create This Picture Chart:


Step 1- Insert the Larger Image


Based on the topic of the data, choose an image that can can work as the base of the column chart. We found image of an open truck. If you are presenting marketing or sales data across different continents, a globe for instance can work as a good base.


Step 2- Insert the Column Chart

Go to the Insert tab, Chart menu and add the Column Chart. Edit the data and place the chart over the image.


Step 3- Use Pattern Fill in Bars

If you want to recreate the bars as we did in the “Truck crashes” slide, select the bars, right click and click Format Data Series. Select the Pattern Fill radio button and choose the Light Vertical option (see the screenshot below):


Use Pattern Fill in Bars


Step 4- Add Visual Element/Icon over the bars

Locate an image relevant to the topic or an icon and place it above the bars. If the bars represent different products or companies, you can add their logos. Since our chart depicted data on trucks, we took the front portion of the truck and placed it above the bars making the four bars appear like trucks.


Step 5- Customize the Gridlines of the Chart

You can also customize the Gridlines from the Chart Elements options. Go to the Gridlines menu, deselect Primary Major Horizontal and select the Primary Major Vertical. You can customize it further and change the color and thickness of the line by clicking More Options...


Customize the Gridlines of the Chart


So these were 6 variations of picture charts that you can try for your presentation. Choose the right images and icons to create a professional picture chart. Do not choose a blurry image. If you are unable to find a good icon or image, then go for the default column chart look.


If the chart lends itself to creative imagery, then go for it!


Professionally Designed & Editable Picture Charts


Creative PowerPoint Chart #1
You can use the above hacks if you are using bar charts too. The difference between a column chart and a bar chart is that while column charts consist of vertical bars, bar charts consist of horizontal bars. Here’s an editable, data-driven bar chart that follows this hack:


Data driven education chart


Creative PowerPoint Chart #2

You can also have multiple categories and still use images without any trouble. Here’s one such data driven PowerPoint chart:


Education PPT Chart Data Driven


Creative PowerPoint Chart #3

Here’s a creative PowerPoint chart that combines a realistic image and column chart:


Globe with Bar Graph PowerPoint Slide


Creative PowerPoint Chart #4

For charts showcasing data on health and lifestyle, creative data visualizations like this editable PowerPoint chart can be used:


Fork Style Data Driven Creative PowerPoint Chart


Using such picture charts ensures that your data would be remembered by the audience- a rare accomplishment where charts and graphs are concerned. What do you think about these charts? Give us your feedback in the comments below.

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42 thoughts on “6 Design Hacks to Turn Boring PowerPoint Charts into Creative Picture Charts”
  1. Michael
    This is too helpful. I hope you would post many of these related to making your presentation exquisite and or creating a good infograph (or picture graph). I would be grateful if you can send into my mail
    1. slideteam
      Thank you so much Michael! If you are a SlideTeam member, you would receive our PowerPoint tips and tutorials in your inbox from time to time. If you are not, you can create a free account on our website. We'll surely post more of such posts to create interesting, impactful presentations. :)
  2. Jude Barak
    Great ideas and very helpful "how to"... Thanks a lot
    1. slideteam
      Most welcome, Jude! Glad you found the ideas useful. :)
  3. Vani
    Wow Great ideas!
    1. slideteam
      Thank you so much Vani! Glad you liked the ideas. :)
    2. Dianne Bowditch
      Dianne Bowditch
      I would love your help
      I need to depict visually that is takes 3250 pounds of Narcissus Poeticus (Daffodil) petals to make 1 kilo of absolute.
      Absolute is a thick perfumers substance sold in a dark amber or green bottle.
      1. slideteam
        Hi Dianne

        Thanks for reading our blog. We have various pre-designed templates showcasing perfume bottles and elements used to create perfumes. Here is the link
        However, if you have a specific design in mind, you can choose our custom design services and our team of professionals will help you create the design you need. Please contact us for your requirements here
  4. Laksh
    Very well explained. Thank you!
    1. slideteam
      Our pleasure Laksh! Glad you liked the article. :)
  5. Handi
    Good idea... thank's so much
    1. slideteam
      Most welcome Handi! :)
  6. Paul Ulloa
    You've outdone yourself! What a great blog post. I've always wanted to know how to do that.
    1. slideteam
      We are on cloud nine, Paul! Thanks a ton. :)
  7. Cherub Antwi-Nsiah
    Cherub Antwi-Nsiah
    This is great. I will try them. Thank you.
    1. slideteam
      Our pleasure Cherub! :)
  8. ProximAB
    Really useful article. Cheers
    1. slideteam
      Thanks a ton! :)
  9. Jenn
    Would you consider making a video of this tutorial? Way easier for many to follow the steps in a video
    1. slideteam
      Yes, turning our tutorials into videos is on our bucket list. Thanks for the suggestion. :)
  10. SmileyGirl
    Thank you for the great ideas and the how to's! Needed some fresh ideas for charts!
    1. slideteam
      Most welcome! Hope you turn tables with your charts! :)
  11. Sunil
    Very creative indeed! Bookmarked!! :) I work in HR Analytics and have used human shapes/icons in charts in other tools. I did not think it was possible in PowerPoint/Excel. Thank you so much for the great ideas.
    1. slideteam
      Yes Sunil, many think that this was not possible in PowerPoint and Excel. Glad you came to know through us. :)
  12. Alejandra
    Excelent!!!! Congratulations!!! Thank you very much for the ideas.
    1. slideteam
      Totally our pleasure, Alejandra! Glad you liked the ideas. :)
  13. Sweta
    Beautiful ! Totally loved the design ideas. I represent an NGO and presenting huge statistical data becomes really boring.. Will be putting these designs to use first thing ! Thanks a ton !! :)
    1. slideteam
      We are super glad to hear that, Sweta! Our pleasure in helping presenters add power to their designs. :)
  14. dorothy jolley
    I have designed PPTs forever and never thought of these designs before. You are the best. Thank you and have a nice day. Dorothy
    1. slideteam
      Thank you so much Dorothy for the kind words! Really appreciated. :)
  15. zeleke himbago
    Hi my friends, I appreciate your help. Thanks
    1. slideteam
      You are most welcome, Zeleke! :)
  16. Vani
    Really Great and wonderful. I like your ideas very much. Thanks a lot Slideteam.
    1. slideteam
      Most welcome Vani ! And thank you for the lovely feedback. :)
  17. Ahmed
    Thank you for good information
    1. slideteam
      Thank you Ahmed! :)
  18. MsYM
    Excellent content! Thanks for sharing!
    1. slideteam
      Our pleasure! :)
  19. Cees
    Thank you for the inpiring post!
    Im looking at hack #5 - use images icons. Try to do this for multiple charts with 30 countries, so doing it manually won't be an option.

    It should become a plot with pictures (flags) instead of names as data labels.

    Any idea if this would be possible?

    Thanks in advance!
    1. slideteam
      Hi Cees, our design team worked on this and guess what, it is possible! But it involves many steps which would be difficult to explain in a comment. You could request our design services team to do it for you if you want. Get in touch at [email protected] and see if that works for you depending on your budget. Thanks for reaching out. :)
  20. Lauren
    This was so helpful. Thank you!
    1. slideteam
      Most welcome, Lauren! :)
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