Breaking the Grid: Dimensional Constraints of Spreadsheets

Decipad allows you to express complex data relationships in an approachable and flexible way, overcoming the two-dimensional constraints of a spreadsheet.

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Traditional spreadsheets have long been the go-to choice for data analysis and modeling across various industries. Their simple grid structure, with rows and columns, has allowed users to organize and manipulate data with ease. However, the very feature that makes spreadsheets approachable and flexible is also a double-edged sword. It can become a significant constraint when dealing with complex datasets. It limits the way numbers and data can be expressed and organized, restricting the depth of data.

Decipad allows you to express complex data relationships in an approachable and flexible way, overcoming the two-dimensional constraints of a spreadsheet.

The Problem with Two-Dimensional Thinking

The foundation of traditional spreadsheets lies in a two-dimensional grid structure, where columns typically represent data attributes, and rows represent data entries. While this works well for relatively straightforward datasets, it becomes increasingly challenging to manage as the number of variables and attributes grow. This limitation often leads to complex formulas, errors and missed opportunities for understanding and collaboration.

The real world is more complex

In the real world, data can be quite complex, with many connections and relationships that go beyond the simple structure of rows and columns in a spreadsheet. Consider a scenario where a company wants to forecast sales for multiple product lines and distribution channels over different time periods. In traditional spreadsheets, this often leads to separate tabs or sections for each attribute, causing complex formulas, lots of nested if statements and fragile relationships between cells that are error prone and difficult to adjust to new inputs and changing circumstances.

To illustrate this, let's look at an example. Say that you decided to turn your passion for beer crafting into a brewery business and want to determine if you could turn a profit.

Your first step is to estimate production capacity and sales prices to get a quick idea of potential revenue. In a spreadsheet, it might look like this:

Simple enough. But, there are already issues developing that will begin to escalate as your model grows in complexity. For example, cells represent simple numbers that are disconnected from their meaning. In this case, $100 is the price per gallon of beer. But, only $100 is connected in the model. Everything else is plain text. And, of course, running a business is more complex than this initial scratch math.

In Decipad you can enrich numbers by giving them labels and units.

Adding Business Dimensions

Let’s say you want to add two new dimensions to your brewery model.

  • Product Type: Evaluating multiple product skews (keg, bottle and pint)
  • Production Growth: Assuming an increase in production every year for 5 years

Unfortunately, in a spreadsheet you can't simply adapt your existing model to add these dimensions. You need to start over and scrap your work.

To accommodate for the Product Type , you can express that as a column and add a price for each product. Since this is only one attribute, it fits easily into the grid structure of a spreadsheet as you can see below:

But, the issues are starting to grow. The relationship between you beer production and sales price is one dimensional (or, really the relationships is between D7 and B7). Formulas start to become repeated across cells. And, your categories, inputs, and outputs are not defined objects. This not only increases the risk of errors but also makes the spreadsheet cumbersome to navigate, understand and adjust.

Next, we want to account for production increasing. Let’s say by 20% every year. That’s easy to setup on it's own. But, we again have a two-dimensional relationship.

Now, we're in trouble. The beer price also depends on the type of product.

This is where the grid breaks. To configure this in a spreadsheet requires lot's of formulas that are copied and pasted, resulting in brittle relationships between cells and a model that is error prone and hard to collaborate in.

  • Lack of Adaptability: You need to start over (again).
  • Undefined Data: Categories and units are not connected to the numbers.
  • One dimensional: Lots and lots of formulas that are very brittle.

A better way to manage complexity

Decipad allows you to define simple mathematical relationships between numbers in a way that is independent of the dimensions. It allows you to keep your sanity while increasing the complexity of your models throughout time. You don't need to fit your model to the two-dimensional structure of a spreadsheet and you can add new categories without having to start over and redesign your model.

Defining dimensional categories

In Decipad, categories can be defined, like the product type. You build your model by creating a relationship between that category and one or more variables, like the ratio of production.

Expressing numbers with depth

You can enrich numbers with labels and units. Instead of 3000, you can express: 3000 barrels per year.

And, because Decipad automatically knows your inputs from your calculations and outputs. You can easily transform your variables into into UI like elements to customize how you present your data and to make it interactive:

Adding dimensions

To account for our beer production increasing over the first 5 years, we can create a separate dimension that connects production overtime.

Projecting over a dimension

Now, we can simply create relationships across multiple dimensions. We don’t need to scrap anything. With ONE calculation, we can calculate production overtime by product.

Or, maybe we want to swap that and see production by year first, and then by product.

Now, we can sum the whole thing by simply adjusting the formula:

In summary, Decipad allows you to build a model in a modular way, expressing relationships between real business concepts, not cells. You can turn numbers into meaningful expressions, and create models that scale with your business and foster collaboration.

Explore the entire microbrewery model here.

What’s ahead

At Decipad, we're never satisfied, and we are always thinking about better, more low-code ways for you to express your models and calculations and share them with you friends, family, team or the world.

Currently, you need to represent a dimension using the first column of a table and connect it with other elements to make a relationship. Next, we’re making this even more approachable by having no-code UI elements that let you define, use, extend, and combine dimensions in a more intuitive way. One of our principles in building Decipad is to start with the language before extending UI interactions.

Join us in this discovery and try Decipad for free at

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