Sad spreadsheet


Six Tips for Sexier Spreadsheets

That's right; I believe our spreadsheets can, and should be, sexier.

Spreadsheets can be useful for all kinds of processing and organization tasks; and if we're going to be using it as a tool, we should make the experience as healthy as possible. I'm not talking about turning your digital workflow inside-out here. These are six simple steps to think about when you create a spreadsheet that will make it look more professional and navigate more easily.

Personally, I like Google Sheets, but these ideas apply equally to any spreadsheet app. Just know that I'll be using terminology and icons that may be specific to Google Sheets.

Let's dive in.


1. Delete extra rows & columns

By default, a new sheet starts with 1000 rows and 26 (a-z) columns. You can always add more if you need them, but don't forget that we can remove them as well. Once you get the basic framework of your sheet laid out, delete all the extra rows and/or columns you won't be using. It'll go a long way in tidying up your document.

How do I delete rows and/or columns?

Right-click on any cell in the document and you'll see a "Delete row" or "Delete column" option. If you have multiple cells selected (a range), you'll get an option like "Delete rows 13-15" or "Delete columns D-G."

Spreadsheet delete rows or columns


2. Create some breathing room

By default, cells are 21 pixels high and 100 pixels wide. Adjusting cell width is probably more intuitive, and therefore common, than adjusting the height. But increasing cell height can create a much more pleasant-feeling spreadsheet in some cases. One major reason for increasing cell height is for a spreadsheet title or header row. But I often increase the size for the entire document, just to give it a little room to breathe. The aesthetic benefit of this works in conjunction with #3 below.

How do I change the size of rows or columns?

You probably already know how to drag the edge of a row or column header to change the size of that specific row or column. But changing the size of a range of rows or columns is where it gets fun. For this, you'll need to select the entire row or column, not just a range of cells. You do this by clicking the header for a row or column. Here's an example: if you want to increase the height of rows 5-10, you'll click the header for row 5, and then shift+click the header for row 10. Now that the range of rows is selected, right-click one of the headers in the selection and choose "Resize rows 5-10." It sounds more complicated than it is. Once you do it, it'll seem silly.

Spreadsheet resize rows


3. Vertical middle align

You know about horizontal alignment: left, right, center. But did you know we can align things vertically as well? The benefit of this doesn't become apparent until you increase the size of rows, because the default 21 pixel row height is too small for vertical alignment to make a difference. I tend to vertical middle align almost everything, especially when I'm building a spreadsheet as an interface (as opposed to a background raw data sheet).

How do I vertical middle align cells?

The button for vertical alignment is conveniently located right next to the horizontal alignment button (who'da thunk?). All you have to do is select a cell or range of cells, click the vertical alignment button, and choose middle.

Spreadsheet middle align


4. Merge cells

You might feel like you're stuck with the cell-by-cell grid of your spreadsheet, but you have some flexibility. We can merge cells, both horizontally and vertically. Merging just means you're turning two or more cells into one cell that spans multiple rows or columns. This can be used for all sorts of layout and organizational purposes, not the least of which is titles and headers.

How do I merge cells?

The merge button is located to the left of the horizontal align button. All you have to do is select a range of cells and click merge. You can always un-merge previously merged cells by selecting them, and click the merge button again.

Spreadsheet merge cells


5. Use color

This is a bit of a double-edged sword. Color can be a great way to make navigation and organization of a spreadsheet more intuitive, but it can also make it a hideous mess. Use some color, but do it with purpose and in moderation. As a rule of thumb, titles or headers often use bolder colors, while column or row ranges usually use lighter versions of the same color.

How do I change the color of text or a cell fill?

The two buttons for text color and fill color are next to each other. For text, simply select a cell containing text, or make a selection of some text (this can be a portion of text within a cell), then click the Text color button and make a selection. For fill color, just select a cell or range of cells, click the Fill color button and choose a color. You can use custom colors by clicking Custom, and selecting a hexadecimal value ( can help you out with that).

Spreadsheet color


6. Lose the grid

This might seem counter-intuitive, but a crucial step to breaking away from the "eww-a-spreadsheet" feel is to turn off the gridlines. That's right, it completely turns off all the default lines in the entire spreadsheet. That means you'll need to intentionally create lines (borders) where you need them. That might sound redundant (removing them and then replacing them), but this does two things: 1) it enables you to put borders where you want and not where you don't, and 2) it also allows you to change the color and style of the borders.

How do I disable gridlines and create my own borders?

Turning off the gridlines can be easily done in the View menu by unchecking Gridlines. However, you'll probably want to create your own borders before doing this, as navigating your spreadsheet can be tricky without the grid. You can create borders by selecting a cell or range of cells, clicking the Borders button, and then choosing any part or parts of the border you want to display. You can then change the color or border style if you want.

Spreadsheet borders


Go get that sheet!

There you have it: six quick tips to make your spreadsheets sexier. Do you have any additional steps you take to flash-up your sheets? Tell me about it in the comments!

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"Six Tips for Sexier Spreadsheets" - By Darrell Haemer - - No Comments