Humanity First: In Defense of Helper Cells


In blogging about Excel I have faced a dilemma: do I teach the user-friendly but impure Excel, or Excel for the initiated?

I am not the savviest Excel guy in the blogging world. I make up for that with broad experience in business economics, data analytics, content marketing, and more. 

Some things I do in Excel could be prettier and more efficient. I use a lot of helper cells, avoid long, nested statements, and so forth.

I could figure out how to cram these functions into one cell. But I don’t.

Humans can only hold about seven objects in working memory at a time. Just because the computer can hold more, doesn’t mean you should put it there. Remember, you’re designing for people, not machines.

This is especially the case in Excel, whose purpose is to democratize data analysis.

Focus on pleasing your end user, not some black belt Excel forum dweller.



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  1. Alex Powers says:

    I LOVE incredibly long formulas with nested functions. But I definitely see the drawback in them over time when large scale changes need to occur. Sometimes your best friend is CTRL+F – Replace All if you have enough similarities in your formulas though.

    • George Mount says:

      Hi Alex, thanks for stopping by! I sadly don’t think you’re joking about your love of long formulas 🙂 While I do worry about the integrity of the workbook by adding a lot of helper cells, I do think it’s helpful to keep in mind coworkers who may not be Excel lovers (fathom the thought!)

      I do really try to use the “rule of 7” in my Excel work — if it’s got more than seven unique arguments I break it into chunks so that the user can easily store all seven pieces in working memory.

      Good tip on Ctrl F — big time-saver!

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