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Bas Jansen & Felienne Hermans


Spreadsheets are frequently used in industry to support critical business decisions. Unfortunately, they also suffer from error-proneness, which sometimes results in costly consequences.

Experiments in the field of program education have shown that programmers tend to make fewer errors and can better focus on the logic of a program if they use a block-based language instead of a textual one. We hypothesize that a block-based formula editor could support spreadsheet users in a similar way.

Therefore, we develop XLBlocks and conduct a think-aloud study with 13 experienced spreadsheet users from industry. Participants are asked to create and edit several formulas, using our block-based language. We then ask them to evaluate this editor using the Cognitive Dimensions of Notations framework.

We found that for all dimensions the block-based formula editor received a better evaluation than the default text-based formula editor.


LOOKUP formula in XLBlocks
LOOKUP formula in XLBlocks

To do a lookup, the user simply specifies:

  • (a) the value they are looking for.
  • (b) the range that contains the possible lookup values.
  • (c) the range that contains the matching results.

XLBlocks translates this into the following formula: =INDEX(C14:C19,MATCH(B5,B14:B19,0)).

Using the LOOKUP block in XLBlocks give users the flexibility of the INDEX and MATCH combination without the complexity.


2019, IEEE Symposium on Visual Languages and Human-Centric Computing (VL/HCC), October

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XLBlocks: A block-based formula editor for spreadsheet formulas