If you have to use a pie chart – be cool!

So recently I posted a PowerPoint template Flat Graphs & Charts which featured a rather cool Pie Chart.  I was asked if I could explain how it was done.  Honestly, I thought this had already been posted, but after a quick review I realized it hadn’t and so, here it is…


There’s been a lot of discussion on the internet about pie charts. The general consensus seems to be that pie charts are bad:

Pie Charts Are The Worst – Business Insider

screen shot 2013-06-17 at 10.34.08 am

“Take a look at these three pie charts.

Let’s say that they represent the polling from a local election with five candidates at three different points A, B, an C during an election.  So, what can we learn from this information?  Since these are the shares of the votes that each candidate will get, it should be easy for the reader to figure out what, exactly is going on in this race.  But it really isn’t.  In the first race, is candidate 5 doing better than candidate 3?  Who did better between time A and time B, candidate 2 or candidate 4?  Who has the most momentum in the race?  If the point of a chart is to make information more easily understandable, how is this chart working for you?”

However, that being said, if your data is simple pie charts can show the data effectively – and therefore be good:

Why Tufte is Flat-Out Wrong about Pie Charts : Speaking PowerPoint


“But what if, instead, the only point you want to make is that the 2 largest distributors control 65% of the market. Which graph demonstrates that more clearly?”

So I thought I would show you all a really cool trick to make pie charts look different.  I’m not going to talk about understanding / analyzing them, only changing the visual aspect.  I prepared a presentation for you, so if you don’t want to follow the instructions, you don’t have to.  Instead you can download the sample “pie_charts_seen_differently” file attached.

How is it done?

Prepare your pie chart as normal, and format it with the fill colours etc you want for each series.

To do the rest you will need editing software such as inkscape, or adobe illustrator. Basically, though you take a circular shapes and cut out of the centre the parts of the pie chart that you want to show. Save your shape in the *.emf format and import it into Excel (or PowerPoint).  You can download my inkscape file *.svg and the *.emf files as well by clicking on the hyperlinks.

If however, you don’t have or don’t know how to use image editing software, you can use one of the shapes provided in the PowerPoint presentation above. Take the shape and copy it using Ctrl+C.  Click inside the chart (but not on the chart) and press Ctrl+V.  Re-size the shape so that it covers the edges of the pie chart.  Re-colour the shape to match the background of your chart.  Since my background is white, the fill of the shape is white.

And that’s it!  You can also paste the shape on top of the graph by clicking on the slide in PowerPoint or an adjacent cell in Excel.  If the picture is pasted inside the graph, it will re-size with the graph when you change the graph’s size.  If not, you will need to manually resize it yourself

cool pie charts

The pie charts in the presentation are all data driven and so can be edited to suit your needs.  The *.emf files are editable in PowerPoint / Excel (once you ungroup them), so you can also change the fill, etc as you need to suit your design.  Again, you can download the PowerPoint pie_charts_seen_differently.

Have fun!

+Alesandra Blakeston


Blurs and image effects

For those blessed few who have access to Adobe Photoshop – you are probably already aware of gaussian blurs and motion blurs.  In fact, you probably use them regularly!  For those of us who don’t, instagram and other mobile apps have now granted us access and a few of us have been having fun.

My post today though, isn’t how to generate these kinds of blurs, but instead, how these blurs can help you to make effective presentations.  I give the 2 examples below:

quote quote 2

What I was trying to do was to illustrate the following quote: “We must take adventures in order to know where we truly belong.”  I searched for appropriate pictures that would match the essence of the quote, I changed fonts, and I repositioned the text, all to no avail!  No matter what I did, I couldn’t make it work.  So I blurred the image.

Slide8 Slide3

I leave it to you to decide which you prefer.  The first image has a motion blur applied.  It gives a sense of adventure.  The second image has a gaussian blur.  You can still vaguely see the image behind it, though I will probably tweak that blur a little and reposition the text some more before finalizing the presentation.  The idea though is that you get the idea of travelling to a tropical island.

There are probably hundreds of different blurs out there now and you can alter the settings of most to get the most out of the blur effect.  If you don’t have access to photo editing apps with blurs, then I suggest you visit this site: cellsea.com.  There are five basic blurs in there along with a lot of other tools.  It may not be the best site, but it’s free and I like it!  You can see the blur, gaussian, and motion blurs effects on each picture in this presentation.


+Alesandra Blakeston

Non-linear presentations without Prezi!

When you ask most presenters about presentation software that can give non-linear presentations (i.e. not PowerPoint / Keynote), most of them will tell you about Prezi and start expounding on how fantastic it is.  Don’t misunderstand me, Prezi is fantastic.  Unfortunately since Prezi is online and most of my business presentations contain confidential information, my use of Prezi is limited.  Of course there is Prezi Desktop now, though I must admit, I haven’t actually tried that yet.

What I have found recently though, is a open source program called Sozi.  (Picture taken from the Sozi website)sozi

Sozi allows you to animate inkscape (*.SVG) drawings.  For those of you that cannot yet see how a drawing could become a presentation, bear with me.  I quote the makers themselves:

Documents produced by Inkscape and Sozi can be displayed and animated by web browsers supporting the SVG format, and the Javascript language. The user can control the presentation using the mouse and keyboard.

Sound good so far?

As an example, I’ve create the following drawing using Inkscape.  Unfortunately WordPress doesn’t allow for the uploading of SVG files.  So instead, I’ve uploaded the sample file to my Google Drive account.  You can download the sample file here. Imagine you have a map of the world showing some results:


Let’s say that normally this would be shown on slide 1.  Then you want to show Europe’s results in more detail as a bar chart:


Then you want to go back to the map and perhaps and then after that, show some interesting statistics about gender distribution in your team:


The idea is to simply create the images (slides) you would use in Inkscape and of course you can have one drawing flowing into another if you so wish!

So you’ve created your drawings in an Inkscape file.  “What do I do now?” you ask.  The first thing you need to do is to draw rectangles around each of your “slides” in the Inkscape file.  Note, your rectangles don’t have to be the same size or to be evenly distributed!

Sozi example

Then select the first rectangle you wish to be slide one and open up the Sozi extension (note you need to have installed Sozi first – see technical notes at the end).  Wait for the extension to work and then adjust the parameters.  I recommend ensuring that hide is selected as this will hide the actual rectangle and just show the elements behind it instead.  If you want the slide to automatically move on, change the Disabled button to Enabled. There is a full explanation on the different settings on the Sozi website here.  I’ve mostly kept the default settings and then pressed the  OK button.

slide 1

Continue selecting and then adding your rectangles until you’ve added them all.  Then save your Inkscape document and close it.  Right click on the file and open in in your internet browser.  And voila, your animated presentation!  You can add zoom effects etc and adjust the transitions as well.

Once again, the example file I used can be found here on Google Drive.  What do you think?  My example is quite linear, but some of the examples on the Sozi website are infinitely better and very non-linear!  Good luck!

Alesandra Blakeston

Technical Notes: There are a few things that need to be installed on your machine other than Inkscape e.g. python, but most Inkscape users will have installed most if not all of them already.  Either way, full details can be found here.  Sozi is actually an extension to Inkscape, so all you actually need to do once you’ve got the other parts installed is simply to extract the files to the extension folder of Inkscape.  Once done, you can open up Inkscape and find Sozi in the main menu under extensions.


After the conference last week, I was feeling remarkably tired, so I asked some of my previous interns and friends to help motivate me. Specifically, I asked them to name their favourite quotes regarding motivation.  Then, when I received the quotes, I put them into pictures using Inkscape, because being a right brain person, I think in pictures rather than words.  Now, I’m inspired and ready to go once more.  I hope that they can motivate you too!

you are the creator

success is the sum

The difference

How to create 3D text (extruded)

Unless you are good with Blender, Google Sketchup or AutoCAD, real 3D is probably not achievable. However, you can simulate 3D objects quite quickly and easily using Inkscape. I’ve created this How-to guide using Text as an example, but it applies just as easily to shapes and other Inkscape objects. Enjoy!

  • Firstly, open up Inkscape and create a new document.
  • Click on the T button on the tool panel and then click on the page
  • Then write your text. Please note, this techniques works best on straight lines, rather than curves, so choose your font accordingly. You’ll see in the picture below that most of the letters below have straight lines.11
  • Once done, click out of the text editor and then click back on the text once to select it
  • Create a duplicate using Ctrl+D.
  • Move the duplicate slightly below and to the right using the down and right keys.
  • Create a duplicate of the duplicate in the new position
  • Change the colour of the top duplicate to allow you to see it better.12
  • Alt and click the top duplicate to select the black duplicate just beneath it.
  • Then with the shift key held down, click on the original black text. (You should now have the 2 black objects selected)
  • Press Ctrl++ or click on Path > Union to combine the two black objects together
  • Then press the Edit nodes by path button (or press F2)13
  • On the letter T of the image above, I’ve selected the corner nodes that will need to be deleted. They are highlighted in purple (see also screenshot below showing just the top of the letter T)14
  • Select the first node to delete, then press the delete button. With the node deleted, the node handles will become visible.15
  • Adjust the mode handles so that they are on top of the node they came from16
  • Repeat for all of the nodes that need to be deleted
  • You should now have a basic extruded shape
  • Note: You don’t have to move the duplicate shape down and to the right, you could move it up and to the left (as shown below).17
  • You can see, that as stated originally, rounded shapes are not as easy to manipulate (letters X and R). I suggest a little experimentation adjusting the nodes and node handles
  • For even more emphasis, combine this effect with other effects:text here

Alesandra Blakeston

Create a thermal map of Europe

Created this file based on work from Andy Pope (Showing US map and using data ranges) and Peltier Tech (also showing US map) to show a European map in colour based on the values entered.  There’s a little bit of VBA, not much and of course you need to have the shapes in excel, but I though it was interesting, so I’ve posted it here to view.  The idea is to be able to see by colour how good or bad each country is performing.  Nice visual statistics.  I’ve seen a few websites that will do this for you, but I liked the idea of doing it in Excel and since it was relatively painless, here it is.  (You can of course also use this technique for other things, not just maps!)europe map

In the attached file, you have two sheets, once with the map (MainMap) and another for the data (Control)

colour ranges

Each individual country on the MainMap tab is a freeform object.  You can either draw these in excel yourself (tricky), or you can go to OpenClipArt.org and download the appropriate svg file, for example world map, french map etc.  Then use an svg – wmf converter (or emf converter).  Once the file has been converted, import the wmf or emf drawing into excel.  If you use inkscpae you can open the svg directly and save as emf, nice and easy!  Ungroup the wmf / emf picture on the excel sheet and excel will convert each object into a freeform shape.  Give each freeform a name (the same as in the list of countries on the Control sheet.  You can do this using the selection and visibility pane or by typing it in the name box next to the function bar.  Obviously if you want to add more countries, you need to add and name more countries on the map as well as on the control tab.

excel named range selection and visibility

Then go to the “Control” sheet.

A2:B9 is a named range called “STATES”, note the use of capitals!  If you’ve added extra countries, use the name manager on the formulas tab of the ribbon to edit the range.


E2:E9 is also a named range “STATE_COLOURS”, but the macro assigned to the button actually looks at the formatting of the colours in the adjacent cells to this range i.e. F2:F9.

How it works is that when you change the values in B2:B9, and press the macro button, the colours on the MainMap page will change accordingly.

The vba to do this is below.  I’m sure there are other ways of doing this, but vba is not my strong suit.  Please note the diagonal colouring with 2 colours only works in Excel 2003, not 2010.   Also this works only for exact values and not ranges (which is what I wanted), but the vba can easily be altered to look at ranges of values.  Any comments or suggestions, please post below!  Enjoy.

Sub ColourStates()

‘ Using the values from named range STATE

‘ And the colours from named range STATE_COLOURS

‘ re colour the map on sheet MainMap

Dim intState As Integer

Dim strStateName As String

Dim intStateValue As Integer

Dim intColourLookup As Integer

Dim rngStates As Range

Dim rngColours As Range

Set rngStates = Range(ThisWorkbook.Names(“STATES”).RefersTo)

Set rngColours = Range(ThisWorkbook.Names(“STATE_COLOURS”).RefersTo)

With Worksheets(“MainMap”)

For intState = 1 To rngStates.Rows.Count

strStateName = rngStates.Cells(intState, 1).Text

intStateValue = rngStates.Cells(intState, 2).Value

If intStateValue > 9 Then

‘ stripped

With .Shapes(strStateName)

intColourLookup = Application.WorksheetFunction.Match(CInt(Left(CStr(intStateValue), 1)), Range(“STATE_COLOURS”), True)

.Fill.Patterned msoPatternWideUpwardDiagonal

.Fill.ForeColor.RGB = rngColours.Cells(intColourLookup, 1).Offset(0, 1).Interior.Color

intColourLookup = Application.WorksheetFunction.Match(CInt(Right(CStr(intStateValue), 1)), Range(“STATE_COLOURS”), True)

.Fill.BackColor.RGB = rngColours.Cells(intColourLookup, 1).Offset(0, 1).Interior.Color

End With


‘ single colour

intColourLookup = Application.WorksheetFunction.Match(intStateValue, Range(“STATE_COLOURS”), True)

With .Shapes(strStateName)


.Fill.ForeColor.RGB = rngColours.Cells(intColourLookup, 1).Offset(0, 1).Interior.Color

End With

End If


End With

End Sub

Once again, you can find the Excel file here.  Enjoy

Alesandra Blakeston

Create a realistic Polaroid vector

Open inkscape and draw a square.  To do this, click on the bezier curves and lines icon and draw a square by clicking on the page where the first three corners of the square would be, and then double click on the last corner to finish your shape.  It doesn’t matter if the square isn’t perfect – we don’t want a perfect square!  Also, do NOT use the automatic square tool!!!  The reason for this is so that you can turn the straight lines into curves later…


Once you have done this, double click on the shape to show the nodes (in the picture above you can see four nodes three grey diamonds and one blue diamond (selected node).  In inkscape the diamond shape tells you that the node is a corner.  However we are going to make the vertical lines curved, so we need to change the type of node.  Select the node you wish to edit (when selected it will turn blue), then click on the make selected nodes symmetric and then the make selected nodes smooth icons.  This will add two smooth node handles to the node as shown below.

64  6566

You can then change the length etc so that there is a slight curve on the vertical edge.  Repeat for the other two corners until the square looks as shown below.


Now we need to add the fill.  Normally a Polaroid is a flat colour, but the light around it adds shadows, so we’re going to add a gradient and remove the line.  With the object selected, the Fill & Stroke bar should appear at the bottom of the screen.  Double click on the fill to open the fill and stroke panel.

69 68

On the fill tab, click on the linear gradient button.


Often you will need to edit the gradient, so click on the edit button and change the stops of the gradient.  I made the first stop white (255,255,255,255) and the second stop light grey (230,230,230,255).


Then I need to change the angle of the gradient, so click on the create and edit gradients button and move the start and end stop positions as shown below.


Click on the stroke tab and then on the X button to remove the stroke (outer edge).  The back part of your Polaroid is done.

To add a shadow, press Ctrl+D to create a duplicate and then press the End key to move the newly created duplicate behind the original.  With the new one still selected, choose a dark grey colour for the fill.  Then in the fill and stroke panel, increase the blur to 3.0 points.  Reposition the newly created shadow so that it is to one side of the original.


Now to add the place for the photo to go in.  Click the top rectangle.  Press Ctrl+D to duplicate and then change the size of the new rectangle so that it is smaller and fits inside the original.  Change the fill to black.  Please note, you may need to alter the node handles slightly to get them to fit correctly.


Export the picture as a *.png and you are done.  You can also save the *.svg as an *.emf if you wish to use the drawing in PowerPoint for example.  However, the *.emf format does not support gradients, so you will need to add them back in once you import the *.emf to PowerPoint.

Final point, if you are intending to use this in PowerPoint, once one is complete, it is very easy to create others with slightly different curves to make a really professional slide.  Enjoy!

Create a simple button set

If you are not so good at drawing, either freehand or on a computer, you have probably used Google search or another tool to find your icons in the past.  There is another way however.

Firstly, if you haven’t already done so, download inkscape.

Then decide what icons you need. To get the idea, we are going to create these three icons… They are very simple, but I think you will agree, effective


Gear box (10 steps)

You may not be aware of it, but inkscape has the capability to render images by itself.  This is extremely useful!!!

  1. Create a new document by pressing Ctrl+N (if you don’t already have a new document open)
  2. Click on Extensions, Render and then Gear.
  3. Choose the number of teeth, in this case 8
  4. I’ve put a circular pitch and pressure angle of 10, but you can edit this if you want.  As the circular pitch increases, so does the size of the gear created.  The pressure angle makes the gear more or less pointy.
  5. Inkscape should then create automatically a gear for you
  6. Press Ctrl+G to ungroup the gear
  7. Then click on the circle tool and draw a circle in the centre of the newly created gear, holding down the Ctrl key as you draw the circle to ensure it is perfectly round.
  8. Position the circle exactly in the centre of the gear (you can use the Align and distribute panel to help with this by clicking on Shift+Ctrl+A)
  9. Change the fill of the gear to blue and the fill of the circle to white and remove the stroke of both
  10. Then select both by clicking on them and holding down the shift key and then click on Path and Difference or hold down Ctrl+-.  This will create a transparent centre to the gear.

76 77

I have made mine more rounded by deleting the nodes in the outer circle of the gear (the square blue nodes shown below).  To do this, double click the shape so the nodes can be seen and then one by one, click on the nodes shown while holding down the shift key and then when all are selected, press the delete key.  You can also alter the trajectory of the modes, by adjusting the node handles (red circles when clicked or hovered over)

78 79

House (17 steps)

The house is created by adding and subtracting the basic shapes together.

  1. First draw a square on the page (using the square tool in the same way that you created a circle for the gear
  2. Change the fill to blue and remove the stroke
  3. Add rounded corners, by double clicking the square and then changing the Rx and Ry values for the square to 1
  4. To make the roof, create another blue square.  Do not give it rounded corners.  If necessary, adjusy the Rx and Ry values to 0
  5. Click on Ctrl+Shift+M to open the transform panel and then rotate the rectangle 45 degrees
  6. Position the new diamond on top of the square to make the roof, adjusting the size until they match widths
  7. Then click on both objects and press Ctrl++ to merge the two together
  8. Double click the house to remove the nodes creating the gap btween the rounded rectangle and the roof
  9. Create a second smaller white rectangle to create the door and change its Rx and Ry values to 1
  10. Click on both objects and click on Path and Difference or hold down Ctrl+-.  This will make the door transparent
  11. You now have the basic house
  12. Create a duplicate of the house and with the Ctrl key held down increase its size so that it is slightly larger than the first
  13. Create a duplicate of your duplicate, and colour it white
  14. Position it slightly below the first duplicate
  15. Select the two duplicates and click on Path and Difference or hold down Ctrl+-.  This will create the roof
  16. To create the chimney create a small rectangle and a duplicate of the roof.  Subtract the roof from the rectangle
  17. Position all of the items where you want them (house, roof and chimney) and then press Ctrl++ to merge them together

80 81 82


This is done using the trace bitmap function.  When using simple shapes just won’t work, then we cheat!

  1. Google the word telephone using google image. Find an image that is simple that you want to use.  Search tems like telephone or telephone icon etc…
  2. Import the picture into inkscape by clicking Ctrl+I and choosing the image you’ve downloaded
  3. Then with the image selected click on Shift+Alt+B
  4. Adjust the mode.  In this case I have chosen multiple scans, colours 2 scans and then pressed the OK button
  5. You should now have an inkscape object on top of the original image
  6. Move the inkscape object and delete the old image
  7. Press Ctrl+G to ungroup the 2 scans and then click on Path and Difference or hold down Ctrl+-.  This will create the basic telephone image, which you can colour blue and edit using the nodes and node handles, until you have the image you want


All that remains is to create the background buttons

Button (5 steps)

Depending on your style, you can choose to use round or square buttons, but they and the icons should all be the same size.  I’m going to show you how to create square ones.

  1. Create a rounded rectangle
  2. Open the fill and stroke panel and choose a linear gradient
  3. Adjust the gradient as you want it, I have chosen white to grey with a diagonal fill.
  4. Duplicate the rectangle and position it behind the first
  5. Change the fill to dark grey and add a 3pt blur to the rectangle


Join them together (3 steps)

  1. Duplicate the buttons, one for each icon
  2. Position the icons above the buttons
  3. Use the align pane to position each icon in the centre of a button


Convert *.eps or *.ai to *.svg

Update 30th June 2014:

GOOD NEWS!!  I’ve been meaning to update this post for a while now.  The latest version of Inkscape actually allows you to open *.ai files directly and then save them as *.svg.  No extra software or action needed.  As before though you sometimes get issues with gradients, depending on the way the gradients were set up and if the *.ai file was saved with *.pdf compatibility.  See the original post below for more detail!


+Alesandra Blakeston

Original post:

Basically if you want to convert an *.ai or *.eps file to *.svg (and therefore be able to use it in Inkscape), there are three ways (that I know of) to do this, depending on the software you have available and on the complexity of the original drawing:

Using Adobe Illustrator

This is very simple,

  • Open up the drawing in Adobe Illustrator.  If it is an *.eps file, illustrator will automatically convert it to *.ai.
  • Then if it is a really complex drawing involving many layers, groups and gradients, it is best if you ungroup everything and put it all on one layer
  • Then click on File > Save as and choose “*.svg” as the option.
  • You should then be able to open it with Inkscape and edit it as you wish.

Without illustrator: Neevia technology online

If you don’t have Adobe Illustrator, your options are a little more limited.  There is a free online tool from Neevia technology http://docupub.com/pdfconvert/ that you can use to convert files to *.pdf.  It will convert both *.ai and *.eps files as well as other formats (http://docupub.com/pdfconvert/fileformats.html).  Unfortunately there is a 2MB limit, but if you regularly need files above 2MB converting, there is the possibility to buy the pro version.


Once you have converted your file to a *.pdf, you can then open up that *.pdf with Inkscape directly.  Inkscape will TRY to convert the *.pdf into vectors.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t handle gradients particularly well, usually converting them to a black and white gradient, but you can then alter that in Inkscape and save your new drawing as an *.svg file.  Note: If the *.ai or *.eps file was not saved with *.pdf compatibility however, this will not work!  Sorry!

Without illustrator: OnlineConvert.com

Another online resource is http://image.online-convert.com/convert-to-svg


This tool will convert *.ai and *.eps files as well as *.jps and *.png directly to *.svg format.  It’s not quite as good as the Neevia product imho, but when the Neevia product doesn’t work, it can be an alternative route to try.  In addition it allows you to create vector images from raster pictures, quite a neat trick!  When converting *.ai files with gradients it usually works better than Neevia, but again it’s not perfect.  I suggest you experiment with both to see what works and what doesn’t.