Building Data Visualizations in PowerPoint Using Python



The role of data to make decisions in organizations across all the sectors has changed the structural design of our organizations. Our need to be accurate in our decision making has emphasized the need to understand data better. To fulfill the need, the technology around Data Visualizations in the past couple of years has evolved by leaps and bounds.

Thus allowing developers and designers to build great visual artifacts helping people to expand the outreach of the messages they want to share. But the progress in the area of Data Visualization hasn’t been the same across all the platforms. One of these platforms which have missed the fruits of the progress in Powerpoint Presentation.

Why Microsoft Powerpoint is an important platform?

Presentation is still one of the most popular medium that people use to communicate insights. Microsoft Powerpoint as a platform still holds a huge market base that spans across a diverse set of sectors. While the Powerpoint UI has evolved a lot since it first appeared in 1987, there have been powerpoint features that didn’t get to see equitable progress. Two such major areas, I believe are – Animations and Charts.

Data Visualizations in Powerpoint

Visualization gives you answers to questions you didn’t know you had – Ben Schneiderman. Visualization in Powerpoint has been majorly static over the year and the palate to choose from has also been fairly traditional and limiting. While a simple bar chart can always be enough to convey a message, over usage of these graphs and often not in the right context have reduced the excitement data visualizations can generate and thus often fail to captivate our audience’s attention.

It has become harder to capture the attention of our audience to convey the message we want to share. Even from a creator’s perspective, creating a Powerpoint Presentation hasn’t been an exciting platform thus, we often hear people attributing the activity as a boring endeavor. It wouldn’t be too harsh to comment that the world’s largest medium to present insights is probably also one of the hated platforms to engage in.

Hate might be a strong word, but the catchphrase we often hear near the water cooler – “Another Presentation?” might agree with it. While I am not sure if it would be apt to blame the platform for people making bad presentations, I believe it would be a good subject for debate on.

Coming together of two different worlds – Python and Powerpoint.

I believe a lot of the designs cannot be realized because of the limitation of the feature PowerPoint provides. For Example – Imaging a data visualization with 200 data points in a single slide where each data point is represented using an image first represented in bubble clusters.

Now imagine those data points being rearranged in bar chart fashion in the next slide. And while in a slideshow, these images(data point) move from their initial position to the next position in what is termed as a Sandance Visualization.https://sanddance.js.org/ . Manually putting these data points is not humanly feasible. Such kinds of visualizations sadly aren’t imagined for Powerpoint. But what if I can tell you that dream isn’t too far fetched.

Diving in –

Building a presentation using Python opens a whole new possibility of designs as with code you can leverage the power of Automation. To do this, we will be using a python library known as Python PPTX. While python-pptx is popularly used for its power to update and create a presentation in a usual workflow process, a lot of interesting use-cases can be thought of.

For this blog post, we will be making a Racing Bar chart – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NQvismUv9A to visualize how the Population of different countries has changed over the years.

A little background.

Python-PPTX can work with any OpenXML based Presentation platform. Microsoft Powerpoint is formatted in XML to represent the content generated with an aim to ease the transfer of data across their platform. Please refer to the installation process of the Python PPTX package before you begin with code https://python-pptx.readthedocs.io/en/latest/user/install.html.

Lets Code –

Import Package

# Import Objects from