Creating a Custom Theme in Xcelsius

For the past year as I have transitioned from creating dashboards in Excel to utilizing Xcelsius, I have been forced to regress on some of my previous charting advances. Spurred on by the teachings of Edward Tufte and Stephen Few, and the implementation of their ideas by BonaVista Systems and Juice Analytics, I was determined to make great “clean” dashboards.

Until now I found that the Halo theme had minimal chart-junk, but didn’t allow for out-of-the box waterfall charts, for example due to the shadow effect. iTheme appeared to have the perfect charts (once you turn off the chart background), but the selectors, tabs and icons are incredibly unattractive and I hardly see the theme used in practice.
Ultimately my determination to make a better Gantt chart led me to pour over the XML and Cascading Style Sheets that comprise the theme to see what I could impact. The result was both a bit disappointing and exhilarating. Unfortunately I was unable to get the color scheme to override the color defaults (because they appear to be embedded in the theme’s SWF file) or make the chart backgrounds default to off. Yet I did find that all themes are broken out into two components, “charts” and “art”.

With a little finesse, I have been able to combine the art and charts of existing themes to create my own custom themes. My current push has been to combine Nova’s selectors with the iTheme charts. In fact, I was so excited; I began building a web site to highlight the results at At this point, I have been able to use the theme to create templates that allow for OotB capabilities for basic Waterfall, Gantt and Spie charts.

Considering that I’m not a developer, and I have very minimal CSS and XML experience, I’m overwhelmed by the possibilities that I was able to uncover. With the ability to overcome some of the visualization limitations of Xcelsius, it may be possible to expand the user base.

I’d certainly appreciate any feedback to improve what I have developed so far. Download the theme at:

Josh Tapley

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  • Ken J

    Finally!!! I have been laboring under this burden of gradient shaded themes for too long. Why should I have to buy a special waterfall component just because the theme won’t support an “invisible” series? My thanks to you for tackling this

  • Hi Josh,

    nice theme! I definitly will have a deeper look at it.
    What do you think about our components for Xcelsius, which you find at our website? We strongly believe in the “data-ink-ratio” of Mr. Tufte …

    Have a nice christmas, Lars

  • Josh,

    This is great work!

    I’ve been wanting to mix and match some of the components from different themes for a long time. I’m going to have to get in there and start playing around. I might hit you up with a few questions.


  • Or Shoham

    Theme looks good at a glance, will look into it in-depth next week.. but I doubt Stephen would approve of those awful pie charts. 🙂

  • Joshua Tapley

    Fair enough about the pie charts! I like the minimalist style, but sometimes you need to toss some flare in there to keep the execs happy.

  • Hi Josh Tapley
    Its very interesting and tricky ,I really enjoy it.
    Actually in meant time of reading your post a thought comes in my mind regarding password protected dashboard
    My scenario is like this
    I want to create a dashboard which show a data to particular Region person to only its region data. and also want to put a password change box
    By using dynamic visibilty I have done region wise person can see only its region data

    but for change password I don’t get any idea ,how to add a data from swf file to my excel sheet so it will be change.

    IF u have any idea pls give me so i can go further in my dashboard

    Thanks In Advance

  • While I have used passwords to deliver user specific content, I don’t think that you can allow the user to change a password embedded in the Excel file. You may be able to create a “scenario,” but that would be lost if the user cleared their cookies.

    Utlimately to do this right, you would need to be able to read/write into a database, and that offers a whole host of questions and challenges. I’m sure that it has been done, but not in a way that seems universal.

    You might be able to use the Centigon Solutions CSV connector and “Xport Wizard” to read/write passwords into csv files. Here is the link…

    Best of luck!

  • I agree with Josh.

    To add the functionality for a user to change their password, you would need to be able to read/write into a database. While this is possible with XML/.aspx script or even a web service, Xcelsius tends to get a bit finicky when writing back.

    I have implemented a similar solution utilizing the XML/.aspx option and it was a nightmare to get dashboard fully functional/implemented. Not to mention maintaining all of the users.

    Another issue that will arise is when a user forgets their password. Additionally, if you are in a corporate environment you may have to adhere to corporate security standards for user passwords which can get way beyond Xcelsius’ limitations.

    Greg Wayne

  • Ben

    This was really cool to see that this is a possibility. Just out of curiosity, did you have to change both the .swf and .css arts and charts files, or just the .css to get this to work?