How to Use Drop Down Menus to Make Interactive Charts and Dashboards in Excel?

Author's avatar Analytics Jun 13, 2022 10 minutes read

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    Peter Caputa

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    Are you preparing a dashboard for your next meeting with the stakeholders, but are afraid that it simply isn’t too interactive?

    Sure, you threw in a couple of impressive charts, but there is still something missing.

    The solution might be drop down menus.

    Drop down menus are a great way to leave an impression on the readers.

    For example, say you’re preparing an Excel dashboard for your company’s product performances. Wouldn’t it look much better if you could pick a specific product and see its specific data?

    While drop down menus can be found in most project management tools, Excel has long been the go-to place for executives building dashboards with drop down menus.

    In this report, we will explain how to use drop down menus to make interactive charts and dashboards in Excel, and provide you with a step-by-step guide you can follow.


    What Are Drop Down Menus In Excel?

    An Excel drop down menu works as a data validation function, it essentially provides users with the ability to pick one of the options from a list of choices.

    Having an Excel dashboard with a drop down list is especially useful when companies need to perform financial modeling and analysis since the spreadsheet becomes much more dynamic and it’s easy to create different scenarios.

    Here are a few more examples of where an Excel dashboard with drop down list can come in handy:

    • Reporting period list (month, quarter, year)
    • Geographical region list (country and city)
    • Marketing category list (select a specific marketing category)
    • Product type list (select different products)
    • Metric type list (sales, expenses, ROIs, pageviews, etc.)

    Using Drop Down Menus to Make Interactive Charts and Dashboards in Excel

    Excel drop down menus can go a long way in making your dashboard both interactive and easy for the viewers to engage with.

    Want to know how to create a dynamic chart with drop-down list?

    Here is a step-by-step guide you can follow to do it in no time.

    Preparing Your Data

    First of all, you need to prepare the data you’ll be using for the drop down list.

    You can either organize the data in columns and build an Excel table, or use rows. Each column should include data for a different variable (product, city, month, etc.).

    In this picture, you can see an example of four outlets set up to summarize specific sales:

    Preparing Your Excel Data

    No matter whether you choose a column or a row, make sure you spend enough time preparing and filtering the data so everything is accurate.

    Creating a Drop-Down List in Excel

    There are three different methods you can use to create an interactive drop down list Excel.

    Let’s go through them.

    Using Data from Cells

    For instance, let’s assume that you have a list of items that looks like this:

    List of items in Excel

    Firstly, select a specific cell for which you want to create a drop down list.

    Open ‘Data’ > ‘Data Tools’ > ‘Data Validation’.

    Data validation tool in Excel

    Once you open Data Validation, you will a ‘Settings’ tab in which you can choose List as the primary Validation criteria. After doing so, a source field will pop up.

    Setting tab in data validation feature

    Now, once you are in the source field you should copy-paste this formula – =$A$X:$A$X (X is the number of the cell you want to include). Or, you can simply select the cells you want with your mouse.

    Excel formula example for creating drop down menus

    You should check the In-cell drop down option since it’s the one responsible for displaying the drop down.

    Also, it’s possible to create drop down menus for multiple cells at the same time, just choose all the cells you want and follow the same steps.

    Entering Data Manually

    The other option is to add the items directly by manually entering the data in the source field.

    For instance, let’s say you need two options displayed in the drop down menu – Yes and No.

    You should choose the cell in which you want to include them and go to ‘Data’ > ‘Data Tools’ > ‘Data Validation’ (same pathway as in the previous method).

    Again, the Validation Criteria in the ‘Settings’ tab should be set on ‘List’. Once you do that, the source field will pop up.

    Now, you should enter ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ in the source field and make sure that the In-cell dropdown option is checked (it typically already is by default).

    Entering Data for drop down menus in Excel Manually

    That’s it for method number two.

    Using the OFFSET formula

    The last method we are going to go over involves using the OFFSET formula.

    Notably, this formula isn’t the only one that can be used for creating a drop down menu, any formula that indicates a list of values will work.

    Let’s imagine your data set looks something like this:

    List of items in Excel

    Now, you should follow the exact same steps as in the first two methods to get to the source field (select a cell, go to Data Validation, and select List as the validation criteria).

    In the source field, type in the offset formula: OFFSET (reference, rows, cols, [height], [width]). This is the syntax of the formula, just type in your specific metrics in it.

    After doing so, the drop down list should appear and look like this:

    Using the OFFSET formula to create drop down menus in Excel

    Generating Data for the Interactive Chart

    The next step in creating an interactive chart is to generate the data by using a data extraction formula.

    To create dynamic charts in excel using data filters, we are going to use VLOOKUP and MATCH functions to dynamically generate the column numbers.

    This is how the formulas should be entered:

    Generating Data for the Interactive Chart - part 1

    Once you auto-fill this function to the columns located on the right side, you will acquire a constant value because the column index number is already coded (the #2 in the formula).

    Now the ‘dynamic’ part.

    Delete the 2 and enter this formula instead: =MATCH (D$11, $C$3:$O$3, 0)

    Generating Data for the Interactive Chart - part 2

    Note: Apply your specific numbers in your formula

    By using this formula, you will get column variables for different months.

    Creating the Interactive Chart

    Okay, so now the data will be automatically updated each time someone chooses one of the outlets in the drop down we created.

    Time to create an interactive chart.

    Go to ‘Insert Menu’, open ‘Charts’, and select ‘Line with Markers’.

    This chart should appear:

    Excel interactive chart example

    You can later customize the color and other elements of the chart in any way you like.

    Excel interactive chart customization
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    Other Options to Create Interactive Charts in Excel

    Creating Excel multiple dynamic charts can’t be done unless the data included is also dynamic.

    In the previous steps, we have shown you three methods you can use to make the data interactive.

    However, you should know that there are other options to create interactive Excel charts.

    For example, you can use a combination of Slicers and Pivot tables, or a Combo Box in the developer menu.

    The reason we didn’t go over these methods is that they require a bit more technical knowledge and ultimately end up delivering the same result.

    Other Useful Information about Creating Dynamic Excel Charts

    You can never get tired of useful information, so here are some additional tricks you can use when creating dynamic Excel charts.

    Creating a Dynamic Drop Down List in Excel Using OFFSET Formula

    We already showed you how to create a drop down list using the OFFSET formula, but did you know that you can also use it to create a dynamic drop down menu?

    You can do this by opening the Source Field (follow the steps to it in the above section of the OFFSET formula method).

    Once the Source Field pops up, enter this formula: =OFFSET($A$2,0,0,COUNTIF($A$2:$A$100,”<>”)).

    In our example, argument 5 is replaced with the COUNTIF($A$2:$A$100,”<>”). We use the COUNTIF function to include all the non-blank cells.

    Creating a Dynamic Drop Down List in Excel Using OFFSET Formula

    Note: Apply your own numbers in the formula instead of copy-pasting this exact one.

    For this method to work, you should make sure there aren’t any blank cells between the filled ones.

    Copy Pasting Drop-Down Lists in Excel

    If you copy-paste the cells that have data validation to other cells, then the data validation will be duplicated there as well.

    Let’s assume that there is a drop down list in cell A2 and you want to use it in A3:A6. You can simply copy-paste A2 into A3:A6.

    This way, you will apply the drop down list in cells A3:A6, alongside the formatting.

    Now, if you don’t want the formatting and you only want to copy the drop down menu, you can follow these steps:

    • Copy-paste the drop down menu cell
    • Choose the cell in which you want to paste it
    • Open ‘Home’, go to ‘Paste’, and click ‘Paste Special’
    • Select ‘Validation’ in the Paste Special box.
    Copy Pasting Drop-Down Lists in Excel

    Creating a Dependent / Conditional Excel Drop Down List

    In some situations, you will need two drop down menus, with the second one displaying items depending on what the viewers chose in the first menu.

    This is known as dependent or conditional drop down menus.

    Here is an example of an Excel dynamic chart with multiple drop down list:

    Creating a Dependent / Conditional Excel Drop Down List

    You can see that the items in ‘Drop Down 2’ are dependent on what the viewers chose in the first drop down list.

    To start the creation process, choose the cell in which you want the first drop down list to be.

    Go to ‘Data Validation’ and choose ‘List’ in the dialog box.

    Select the range containing the items in the Source Field and click ‘OK’ to wrap up the first drop down list.

    Select the range containing the items in the Source Field

    Choose the entire data set (in this case we will take A1:B6).

    Choose the entire data set

    Next, open ‘Formulas’, go to ‘Defined Names’, and select ‘Create from Selection’.

    In the dialog box, uncheck all the items except for ‘Top row option’. This is what creates the two separate name ranges.

    Choose which cell you want the conditional drop down list to be in and go to ‘Data’ > ‘Data Validation’. Select ‘List’ in the dialog box.

    Now, enter this formula once you open the Source Field: =INDIRECT(X). The X is the cell that includes the primary drop down list.

    enter the formula once you open the Source Field

    Voila! You got yourself a conditional drop down list now, the items in the second drop down will now automatically update depending on what you choose in the first one.


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    Filip Stojanovic

    Filip Stojanovic is a content writer who studies Business and Political Sciences. Also, I am a huge tennis enthusiast. Although my dream is to win a Grand Slam, working as a content writer is also interesting.

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