We often need icons and buttons for our dashboards, be it for navigating between pages or showing/hiding elements such as a panel of filters. It might come as a surprise to some but, in my opinion, one of the best software to use is Microsoft PowerPoint. Yes, the software that you use when you need to make some slides for a presentation. If you are a Data Schooler, it is already installed on your laptop. In fact, I’ll hazard that the vast majority of you reading this blog will have it on your work computer, and you would have used it before and are somewhat familiar with the interface, which means you don’t have to learn another piece of software – yay!

(Note: You can do all this in Word too but, as you can imagine, I find it substantially easier to create and manipulate visual elements like these in PowerPoint.)


The Basics


When selecting an icon to use on a dashboard, we often are looking for something that isn’t too fanciful and has clean lines, so that it does not clutter up the said dashboard and detract from your main visual elements. The icon library in PowerPoint meets that basic criterion.

Just launch your PowerPoint, go to the Insert tab of your tool ribbon, click on Icons, and find an icon (or multiple icons) that suits your intended purpose. Once you’ve found something you’re happy with, select to add it to your slide.


Now that the icon is on a slide, there are a couple of things you should note: (1) The icon appears to have a white background, but it is actually transparent. You can test this out by changing the background colour of your slide (see pic below); (2) There is a padding surrounding the picture part of the icon. This could impact how the buttons would look on your dashboard.

At this point, if you do not want to make changes to the icon, it is pretty much ready to go. Just right-click on the icon, select Save as Picture…, and save it with a location, name, and format of your choosing.

Et voilà! You have a basic button ready for your dashboard. But you don’t have to stop here…


The Extras

Often, we would want to offer our users a familiar and coherent experience when navigating around the dashboard. Here are some ways to achieve it:


On and Off Buttons

One of the easy ways to do that is to have buttons that look different after they have been selected, e.g., using filled vs. unfilled icons. The icons library has such matching pairs for many of their icons, making it very convenient to pump out a whole bunch of icons easily.



Black-and-white icons are classy and look great on most dashboards. But what if you reaaaally want them to be coloured? Simple! Just select the icon, then change the colour of the shape fill as you please. You could even change the colour of the outline too, but be careful not to go too far and compromise the clean lines of these icons.


Manipulating the Shapes

Found an icon that looks good but wish that you could make a little tweak to the shape so that it looks perfect? This might help: Right-click on the icon and select Convert to Shape.

You can then manipulate the shape like you would with any other shapes you draw in PowerPoint.

Pretty neat, huh? If you liked this and want to know more about what you could do with the not-so-humble Microsoft PowerPoint, check out my blog on how I created a cute background for a fun dashboard.



J Tay
Author: J Tay