i-nth logo


Patrick Koch


Spreadsheets are the go-to tool for computerized calculation and modelling, but are hard to comprehend and adapt after reaching a certain complexity.

In general, cognition of complex systems is facilitated by having a higher order mental model of the system in question to work with. We therefore present a concept for structure-aware understanding of and interaction with spreadsheets that extends previous work on structure inference in the domain.

Following this concept, structural information is used to enrich visualizations, reactively enhance traditional user actions, and provide tools to proactively alter the overall spreadsheet makeup instead of individual cells. The intended systems should, in first approximation, not replace common spreadsheet tools, but provide an additional layer of functionality alongside the established interface.

In ongoing work, we therefore implemented a tool for structure inference and visualization along the common spreadsheet layout. Based on this framework, we plan to introduce the envisioned proactive and reactive interaction mechanics, and finally provide structureaware functionality as an add-in for common spreadsheet processors.

We believe that providing the tools for thinking about and interacting with spreadsheets in this manner will benefit users both in terms of productivity and overall spreadsheet quality.


Motivating example
Motivating example

Given only the value view of the sheet (a), this example seem straightforward at first glance.

However, when investigating in greater detail, it becomes apparent that the end result is depending on a number of interwoven and, most importantly, inconsistent calculations.

We provide examples of simple but effective visualizations. Background colour (b) and borders (c) are used as stylistic devices to point out membership of different cells in either formula groups or reference groups.

We believe that providing structure-enhanced information and tools can benefit the way users handle and think about spreadsheets.


2018, 5th International Workshop on Software Engineering Methods in Spreadsheets, October

Full article

Now you're thinking with structures: A concept for structure-based interactions with spreadsheets