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Introducing SmartArt Graphics

A few weeks ago a few folks sent me email asking about what the new shapes features meant for things like org charts and other diagrams.  Today we have the answer in the form of the first of two guest posts from Matthew Kotler, a lead program manager on the SmartArt team.

The impact of graphics in spreadsheets, documents, and presentations is significant, improving comprehension and recall of information.  Yet, the vast majority of content created within Office is textual and with today’s tools it is hard to create professional quality graphics.  Last month David surveyed all of the new charting features of Excel 2007.  The charting work this release provides tremendous improvements for visualizing quantitative data.  However, there are times when you need other way to communicate information.  SmartArt Graphics (previously codenamed “IGX Graphics”) addresses this need.  Since a picture is worth a thousand words, let’s start there:

SmartArt Graphics are designed to make it quick and easy for everyone (not just professional designers) to take an idea and turn it into one of these graphics.  This goal translates into the following features of SmartArt Graphics:

  • Layout templates
  • A Text pane for entering information 
  • Automatic sizing and positioning of shapes and text 
  • Seamless switching between layouts

Layout templates

Each layout above provides a way to express your content differently.  On one side of the spectrum are layouts that simply add visual polish to a bulleted list. 

On the other side of the spectrum are diagrams like organizational charts, Venn diagrams, or interlocking gears that connote a very specific meaning for the information they portray.

The collection of layouts depicted is only a sampling of the more than 80 different layouts that will ship with SmartArt Graphics.  The “Choose a SmartArt Graphic” dialog displays all of the different layouts broken into seven different categories (lists, processes, cycles, hierarchies, relationships, matrices, and pyramids) with descriptions that suggest what type of information is appropriate for a given layout.  The dialog is displayed when you click on the SmartArt Graphics command on the Insert tab of the ribbon:

The set of layouts for SmartArt Graphics is extensible so that we can continue to provide new variations through Office Online and your organization can create a set that is tailored for your needs.

A Text pane for entering information

After a specific layout has been chosen, a template will appear with an area to enter text to the left of that layout. The Text pane, provides a way to quickly enter and edit the text of a graphic. 

Each graphic has its own defined mapping between the text outline and the set of shapes.  Notice how the same text (from the Text pane above) is mapped differently in two different layouts.  In the top layout the sub-points are represented as separate shapes while in the second layout they are represented as bullets within the shapes:

The Text pane is designed to work like an outline or bulleted list.  Pressing enter creates a new line, and using the promote and demote buttons on the ribbon (or pressing tab and shift+tab respectively on the keyboard) will indent or outdent the text on a line.  All of these operations have a corresponding effect on the graphic.  For example, depending on the graphic layout, hitting enter will create a new shape and demote will display a line of text as a bullet within a shape. 


Automatic sizing and positioning of shapes and text

By using the Text pane, you can focus on what you want to communicate without having to worry about sizing and positioning the shapes on the sheet.  SmartArt Graphics does all that work for you.  The “smarts” of SmartArt Graphics come in as you change the amount of text in a shape or bulleted list and in the number of shapes.  And, by the way, those changes do not have to be confined to the Text pane.  All edits can also be made within the shapes in the canvas too. 

The goal of SmartArt Graphics is for the resulting visual to always look professional.  As more text is added to one shape, for example, the font size may decrease to make sure that the text fits inside of the shape (or the shape itself might grow).  In addition, if the text of one shape shrinks then all of the other text in the graphic will also shrink to be the same size, in order to keep the graphic looking consistent and professional.  A template may show only three shapes, for example, by default but often it will allow additional shapes to be added and the graphic will update automatically.

Seamless switching between layouts

There will be times when one layout does not capture the message you are trying to convey.  At any point, you can switch to another layout.  So if you didn’t like having all of the text in separate shapes, you can switch to a different layout that shows all of the text as bullets.  Or if you decide that the workflow you are presenting is really a repetitive process you might switch from a simple horizontal flow diagram to a circular diagram.  Leveraging the power of live preview, you can just move your mouse over any of the different layouts displayed in the ribbon and you’ll see what your content will look like with that template applied.  Some layouts are just not meant for certain sets of data. Live preview allows you to try on different layouts until you find the one that best communicates your message.

Like most of the other posts detailing features for great-looking documents, SmartArt Graphics is not just available in Excel but also in PowerPoint, Word, and Outlook.  In PowerPoint 2007, there is also a button to automatically convert a standard bulleted list on a slide into a SmartArt Graphic and animations can be applied to the graphic (e.g., to display shapes one at a time or one level at a time).

Go ahead and take advantage of the new rich charting functionality when it comes to your regular data but when you have to communicate something more abstract just head a little to the left on the Insert tab.  With SmartArt Graphics you’ll be able to quickly and easily capture and present your ideas in new ways. 

In the next post on SmartArt Graphics, I’ll go into how to quickly turn a default graphic into something that really looks like you had a graphic designer’s help . . . say, something like this: