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Concepts 029, 105

Vertically and Horizontally Segmented Bell Curve

Using the Segmented Bell Curves

Segmented bell curves extend the uses of the solid bell curves (cn010). The examples show volumes of different classifications or levels. The segments range from 1 to 31 for the vertically segmented bells and 1 to 12 for the horizontally segmented bells, so they can also be used to illustrate days, weeks, months, quarters, years, and many other units of time on the x axis or levels on the y axis. Segments can also be used to create asymmetrical divisions in the bell curve: use the same fill and line color to create the appearance of a solid curve, then group and stretch the desired segments, and finally redistribute the segments so they appear continuous once again – the curve is asymmetrical. Gaps and chasms can be created by either deleting some of the segments or by moving blocks of segments to the right or left. The many layouts create the potential for many uses.

Notice that this bell curve does not start at "0" on the Y axis for the vertically segmented bells. This implies that the process or evaluation does not start or end at "nothing." This is significant in a learning curve, because the bell implies that there is some inherent knowledge at the beginning of the learning curve and there will be still more to learn at the end of the learning curve. It is also significant at the beginning of a process: it implies that, perhaps, groundwork for the process has been performed at the front end and ongoing refinements are needed at the end of the process. These are subtle distinctions, but they should not be overlooked.

The horizontally segmented bells have two versions: v1 bells do not start at 0 and v2 bells do.

Customizing the Segmented Bell Curve

Adjust size

If you want to change the size/shape of the bell curve, be sure to group it and resize the entire group. If you want to scale the bell curve and axes, hold the shift key down as you resize. Once resized, place the groups on their respective pages and ungroup to proceed with other customizations.

Color variations

Since each of the segments of the bell curve is separate, they can be colored individually. Use color as a tool with this series of frameworks. Highlight or color code segments to help tell your story.

PowerPoint 2007 options

Most of the new formatting tools in PowerPoint 2007 detract from the segmented bell curves. Use the drop shadow if you want, but it works better if you group the bell curve and add the drop shadow to the whole group. If you add the drop shadow to each individual segments, layering may become an issue.

3D variations

You can use 3D, but don't overlook adjusting the layering. The layering will change depending on which way the 3D is formatted. The more segments, the more adjustments may be necessary.


Use the drop shadow if you want, but layering becomes an issue in pre-PowerPoint 2007 versions. If you don't want to spend time making sure that all of the shadows are behind the primary segments, avoid using shadows.

Gradients, patterns, and pictures

Gradients don't work really well with the segments because they are different heights. The gradient colors are mismatched. Pictures are an interesting idea, however. Much like the way a photograph can be cut into a puzzle, you may want to cut a photograph into a bell curve. This would be a striking way to present this concept.

It may not be readily apparent, but each segment holds a piece of the picture. Animated reveals can be especially interesting with this type of formatting. You can eliminate the lines so the picture looks whole instead of the way it is shown above (with green line color added). Please note that this will not work with all photographs. A large section of the photograph is necessarily missing, as you can see. You need to be selective, and you may need to size and crop until you get the right part of the photograph to show up in the bell curve. Click here to see the FAQ entitled, “How do I cut a photograph into puzzle pieces?” This will walk you through the steps of creating this effect. Note: the instructions are for a puzzle piece, but the steps are the same for the segmented bell curve.


Animation should be simple. Since it is basically conceptual line chart and it has axes, the segments can wipe from left to right in keeping with the primary function of line charts: to show trends. Another use for the bell curve is to show concentrations, which is how the series example is used. You can animate the sections as reveals in whichever manner you wish. If you present the high part of the bell, then reveal that first, and so on.

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