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Build an Excel Navigation Panel

Image result for NAVIGATIONNavigating within an Excel workbook is simple enough if the workbook contains one or two worksheets and if you are familiar with working with multiple worksheets. However, if the workbook as more than a few worksheet or the user is not comfortable with a multiple sheet environment, navigation can be a little more involved, even a little intimidating.

In this article we will discuss creating and using hyperlinked drawing objects to create an intuitive menu system for an Excel Workbook.





The workbook we will be enhancing is used to manage attendance records for employees at each of five locations. Each location is represented by one worksheet for each of three shifts plus one worksheet for the location’s employee list. Unless you are working on a very wide monitor and/or at very high resolution, seeing the tabs for all sheets at the same time will be unlikely:


So going directly from Location A to Location D, for example will require at least one extra step in addition to a mouse-click on the desired sheet tab. In some Excel version two additional steps are needed. First you need to right-click in the sheet navigation area, then select the desired sheets. In some versions of Excel, you will only see 15 sheet names when you right-click the navigation area and may have to select “More Sheets” to be able to access all sheets.




A custom navigation pane will make the process of navigating from one location to any other location in the workbook simpler and more efficient that the stock method of selecting sheet tabs.

‘Own-use’ vs. External User

While the same general techniques apply whether you are designing a navigation panel in a workbook solely for your own use or for another person who will be working with the workbook on a regular basis, designing the panel for someone else to use requires more thoughtful and detailed planning.


The navigation should be simple to use, have an attractive look and feel that is consistent throughout the workbook, be visible at all times, and require a minimum number of mouse clicks for the user to switch from one worksheet to another.

Create a Prototype Menu

The more time you put into designing and perfecting a prototype menu, the easier it will be to apply the finished menu to the rest of the workbook. Start by creating an additional sheet which you will use as a sort of drawing canvas for creating the prototype menu. In the sample workbook, this sheet is named ‘Menu Prototype.’

If you used consistent naming principles for the worksheets when  you created the workbook, you can take advantage of Excel features like copy and paste and object grouping to take some of the tedium involved with building your prototype menu

  • Drawing Objects

Almost any drawing object is suitable for individual menu elements. Simple rectangles arguably make the most efficient use of available space.

  • Effects

Excel drawing objects, especially in the 2007 and later versions, offer a wealth of visual effects to set them off from normal worksheet contents.

  • Hyperlinks

Hyperlinks can be applied to most drawing objects. Waiting to apply them until you have fixed the basic properties of the object makes them a little easier to work with.

  • Properties

By default, drawing objects are moved and re-sized with cell. To ensure the menu doesn’t get automatically moved or re-sized, change the relevant property.

NOTE: Screenshots in this article were developed using Excel 2016. If you are using an earlier version of Excel, what you see an your screen may look a little different from these illustrations

Step-by-step, here’s how to build a prototype menu.

  1. Create a simple drawing object such as a rectangle. Use your mouse to drag the crosshair ( c ) to draw the rectangle shape. You can refine the size of the rectangle to what works best for you.SNAGHTML5a89b04


After you have drawn the shape, click to select it



and set the height and width of the object on the Drawing Tools Format Ribbon Tab ( f ).


2. With the object selected type a caption that will indicate where the button will take the user when they click it. Use the Home Tab’s alignment buttons to align the caption within the button.


3. Duplicate the button. You can use copy and paste but it’s faster to use Ctrl D (duplicate). You will need as one copy of the button for each option you want to offer the user. You will need to modify the caption for each button but it is faster to do this after you have made all duplicates you will need.

TIP: In some versions of Excel, if you position the first duplicate where you want it relative to the original, then continue duplicating, additional duplicates will automatically position themselves relative to the previous duplicate.

4. If necessary, drag the buttons roughly to the positions you would like them to be relative to each other. Use the Align commands on the Drawing Tools/Format Ribbon tab to refine their alignment. Select all of the buttons and use the distribute commands to make the layout more symmetrical.



5. When you have the buttons laid out to your satisfaction, with all the buttons selected use the Group command to combine them into a new custom object.

6. With the new group selected, use shape effects to give your menu panel and buttons a distinct ‘look and feel.’




7. With the menu group still selected right-click it and select size and properties. In the size and properties pane (or dialogue, depending on your Excel version), set the size property to “Don’t move or size with cells.”



8. De-select the group and then select each button in turn to assign its hyperlink.


Choose “Place in This Doucment ( a )," then select the name of the sheet to which you want this button to lead ( b ). Type the name of the cell you want to activate on the selected sheet ( c ). Then click the ScreenTip button and enter the tip you would like to pop up when the user’s mouse hovers over the button.


Pay close attention to all the details when you set up your prototype menu. Once you are satisfied that it looks and performs as you want it to, simple copy and paste it to every worksheet in the workbook.

Apply the Menu to all Worksheets

Positioning the menu panel in a consistent location on every worksheet will give your workbook a more professional appearance. Here is a horizontal menu located at the top left or a worksheet.


And here is a vertical menu, also located at the top left of a worksheet.



You can also remove the hyperlink from the button that represents the sheet on which a menu panel is located and ‘grey-out’ the caption for that button.


For horizontal menu panels, set the height of Row A to the height of the menu panel. For vertical menu panels, set the width of Column 1 to the width of the menu panel. If you want to prevent then menu panel from scrolling off, use the freeze panes command to lock the top row or first column of each worksheet.


  • Intuitive
  • Makes navigation easier
    • Direct access to specified worksheet
    • Direct access to specific location, if needed


  • Takes time to plan and create
  • Sacrifices some workspace

A hyperlinked menu navigation panel will simplify moving from sheet to sheet in workbooks that have more than a few worksheets.

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