Beyond Excel: Grid Is A Spreadsheet Built For Tablet Life

A Microsoft designer behind apps like Excel has built a spreadsheet app for the touch-screen era.

One weekend, Josh Leong was stuck at home during a “low point in video games.” He may have just cleaned or caught up on Netflix, but Leong was a designer at Microsoft working on apps like Excel, Word, and Powerpoint. So instead, he went to his computer and built the spreadsheet of the future. It would need to work on a tablet. It should love multimedia. And it should be collaborative.


The resulting app he created is Grid, and it’s currently a featured item in the App Store for iOS devices. At its core, Grid is absolutely a spreadsheet. But whereas Excel is built from tiny rectangles, Grid features a matrix of squares that are the perfect size for a finger to tap. And whereas Excel focuses on numbers, Grid invites you to suck in text, photos, contacts, and maps to create cloud-synced montages of information.

“What is sort of magical about a spreadsheet is it doesn’t impose a way of thinking on a person,” Leong tells Co.Design. “[But] the spreadsheet has spent the last several decades working on one set of data. Excel took over the world by treating the number like a first-class object. Let’s treat everything as a first-class object.”

Grid is built for Excel’s sleeper market, the majority of us who use spreadsheets to organize or brainstorm rather than compute complex formulas. The UI is inherently touchable because the grid is designed to feel like a piano, with each square you touch sinking into the screen with a subtly satisfying animation.

“[Skeuomorphic] physical objects may be bad, but physical concepts are good,” Leong says. “Depth, weight, acceleration: These are all things you’re using in your life to understand how the world works. And if you’re going to take that stuff away, it’s not going to feel warm.”

If you want your media to take up more than one square, that’s not a problem. You simply drag a finger to envelop more of the screen (then an upward swipe allows you to choose your media type to import). This gesture is by no means complex, but scaling across the screen, it enables the organized-yet-impromptu creation of anything from recipe books to travel memoirs.

As for how the platform can evolve from here, supporting more media formats is in the works. Furthermore, it sounds like there may just be room to get the number crunchers involved after all.


“You want formulas, I’ll show you formulas,” Leong teases. And we’re left wondering–is Leong referring to mathematics exclusively–or could there be new, multimedia formulas encapsulating geolocations and YouTube clips, too?

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.