When To Love Spreadsheets And When To Leave ‘Em

Why Everybody Loves Spreadsheets

If there’s one tool that holds its position of power in the workplace, it’s the spreadsheet. Microsoft released Excel in 1985, and it remains the most popular spreadsheet software with hundreds of millions of users worldwide. Novice users can navigate/nerd out on formulas easily, and advanced users can make Excel shine with custom colors and impressive functions.

Note: I’m only three years younger than Excel. A couple years into college, I realized in a panic that I had never used it, yet basic-to-mad Excel skills were required to enter the workforce. I communicated my dismay to my mother, who had never owned a computer or worked an office job. She replied with, “The grid thing? I’ve used it. It’s easy. It’s fun!”


Yes. It turns out some people love Excel, worship spreadsheets, and celebrate pivot tables for all their puzzle-solving/data visualization prowess.  

Spreadsheet Supremacy


While I personally wouldn’t describe spreadsheets (looking at you, Excel and Google Sheets) as fun, a lot of people do. For the rest of us who forget certain functions after not using them regularly, there are cute little fun magnets to keep by the computer as delightful reminders. For folks whose spreadsheet muscle memory is stronger, spreadsheets can be a blast, and a functional blast at that. It’s rare that software can be as intellectually stimulating and soothing as a crossword puzzle, yet benefit actual work. Even as someone who isn’t adept at Excel sorcery, I can imagine the thrill that comes from presenting beautiful, sortable, dive-in-able spreadsheets must be unbeatable.

The Trouble With Spreadsheets

There’s nothing wrong with spreadsheets...it’s just that folks have come to love spreadsheets so much that they assume the answer to organizing all data is via a spreadsheet. Kid’s party in the park? Plan it in a spreadsheet. Marketing campaign deliverables need to be organized?  Spreadsheet. Top secret world domination in the works? Sigh. Spreadsheet.

However, some data can be better tracked with a more suitable tool. We’re talking:

High Volume Data

Many accounting and financial organizations have observed that as more data is introduced into spreadsheets, problems arise. Manual upkeep, human error, and crashes cause serious issues. For high volume data that requires precision and timeliness, organizations often turn to more secure, automated systems.

High Maintenance Data

If you’re organizing fixed data, spreadsheets are great! Design, input, and review. However, when you’re managing data that requires constant updates, spreadsheets can become tedious and time-consuming. Manual data entry makes human error more likely, and each update increases the risk of recording incorrect data.

Spreadsheets In Creative Tech Stacks: Reliable Workhorse Or Plodding Dinosaur?

For creative teams, tech stacks constantly evolve to meet the growing needs of production. Before you say, “Nuh-uh, I use spreadsheets all the time,” I’d like you to think about where spreadsheets have already been replaced in your workflow:

Content planning used to be conducted almost entirely in spreadsheets, but tools like Monday and Asana have made entire content planning processes easier to map.  

Reporting metrics were recorded manually in spreadsheets, but these days, most folks export data directly from Google Analytics, their social scheduling tools, and more.  

Entire stages of ecommerce production can be tracked in CreativeForce with minimal manual effort rather than a migraine-inducing spreadsheet.  

Are Spreadsheets The Best Choice For Font License Tracking?

One thing that really stands out is how many creative teams manage their font licenses simply by chucking them into a spreadsheet. When it’s time for a project review of licenses, this spreadsheet is how teams check off deliverables and assure compliance. This is a great example of spreadsheet use fulfilling a need, but we’re hearing that spreadsheets might not be the right tool for the job.  

Our State Of Risk In Creative Operations Report found that 49% of surveyed professionals’ teams use spreadsheets or some other manual tracking and communication system to manage font licenses. Yet 62% of surveyed creative professionals worry about unlicensed fonts.  This discrepancy suggests that spreadsheets alone don’t grant the necessary oversight to maintain font license compliance.

Remember how some industries highlight volume as the key contraindicator for spreadsheet use? This applies to font license management in creative environments due to the large number of fonts in use. For example, unwieldy font license tracking of even a singular font out of the many thousands designers keep in shared libraries can lead to the unbudgeted purchase (or repurchase) of multiple types of licenses (often during the panicked last minute), depending on project scope.

Why does this happen? Because entering all that font license invoice information into a spreadsheet is tedious and time-consuming. It's also prone to human error, especially when that data entry is being performed at scale in a pressured environment.  

However, the licensing information doesn’t just need to be stored. It needs to be measured against during project reviews—this is where workflow inefficiency skyrockets.

Manually checking fonts in use against a shared spreadsheet across projects as a single source of truth is tedious, error-prone, unreliable, and wastes billable hours. The best way to ensure compliance is to check at multiple points throughout the creative operations cycle, but unfortunately, the amount of time and organizational wherewithal required to do so makes this process prohibitive. Luckily, there is a better way.


Use Your Font Manager To Track Font License Data And Sound The Alarm On Font Misuse

Modern solutions bundle the many benefits of a spreadsheet into a tool that results in better outcomes with less effort, and that’s what we’ve done with our Creative Intelligence Suite. Think top shelf font management that can also reduce your reliance on spreadsheets for tracking, comparing, and reporting on font licenses…bolstered by the power conduct project reviews faster, with minimal manual effort.  

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Hmph. Do you want to know the catch about using spreadsheets in my professional work? I didn’t have to update even one throughout the first several years of my career. Because almost all the tools I used provided analytics and conveniently spun-up tables for me instead.  

Why should project reviews pull folks back to the Stone Age?  

Side note: Once I actually started using spreadsheets, I found them to be pretty easy...because I bought one of those function cheat sheet magnets I mentioned earlier.  

How Do Creative Teams Tackle Tough Processes?

Want to learn how creative operations pros rise to the challenge of tricky problems like font license tracking? Our 2024 State Of Creative Operations Report shines a light on trends (and oversights) in the industry.