Exploring Office 2007: Using SmartArt Graphics

Tuesday May 22nd 2007 by Helen Bradley

Office 2007 delivers an abundance of new features and enhancements, many of which aren't exactly obvious at first glance. The first article in our new Exploring Office 2007 series takes a closer look at working with the SmartArt tool to easily create everything from simple diagrams to cutting-edge business graphics.

Anything that helps your audience connect with your message will help you in your communications with them. You probably already know how useful charts are for presenting numbers in an easy to read format and how helpful tables are for organizing data.

Microsoft Office 2007 offers a handy new feature called SmartArt that makes it easy to create business diagrams that display textual information in an easy to read and understand format. The SmartArt graphics tool is great for creating everything from simple diagrams to cutting-edge business graphics. In our first Exploring Office 2007 series article, we'll be taking a closer look at working with the new SmartArt feature.

Creating a SmartArt Graphic

SmartArt Layouts screenshot
There's a large range of SmartArt graphics to choose from in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook.
(Click for larger image)
Of the applications in Office 2007, those that incorporate SmartArt are Word 2007, Excel 2007, PowerPoint 2007 and Outlook 2007. To create a SmartArt graphic, simply open one of these applications, click the Insert tab and then the SmartArt icon in the Illustrations group. When the Choose a SmartArt Graphic dialog appears, choose the type of graphic from the category list down the left of the dialog and then the actual graphic to create. If you’re unsure how a graphic should be used, click the graphic to see its name and a description for how it can be used.

The SmartArt layouts range from lists and organization charts to step-by-step processes. If you intend to include pictures in your diagram you’ll find that some shapes (several in the List category, for example) have special placeholders for pictures. These not only make it easy to add pictures but also ensure that they look good, too. In the Process category you will find diagrams that show the steps in a sequential process and some that provide a format for displaying two opposing ideas. The hierarchy group contains organization charts and table hierarchies. When you select a shape, you’re not committed to using that shape, and you can also change the layout later on without losing your work.

Adding Text to a SmartArt Graphic
To add a SmartArt object to your document, click a layout to select it and click OK. The SmartArt graphic appears in your document, your spreadsheet, or on your PowerPoint slide. Along its left edge (when selected) you'll see a pair of arrows — click these to display the text pane. While it is possible to type directly into the graphic, the text pane is a simpler way of entering your data.

SmartArt Text Headings screenshot
In this SmartArt graphic headings are placed in separate shapes to the second level text.
(Click for larger image)

Type the heading for each of the shapes in the graphic and, to create a second level item, press Enter after the heading and press Tab. Exactly how the heading and other text displays will depend on the particular SmartArt graphic. In some cases the heading text appears in a separate shape and in other cases the heading and body text appear in the same shape, but they’re formatted and sized so they look different.

By default, most SmartArt graphics include three headings and their associated shapes. You can add another shape by pressing Enter after the last heading, and you can delete a shape by deleting its associated text in the text pane. When you have finished entering your text, close the text pane. You can now format the SmartArt graphic.

Formatting a SmartArt Graphic
A SmartArt graphic inherits its formatting from the document or slide Theme. If you apply a different theme to your document or slide, the look of the SmartArt graphic will change. To do this in PowerPoint, click the Design tab and select a different Theme from the themes collection. The color of the graphic is also inherited from the current theme color scheme; you can alter the theme by selecting a different color scheme from the Colors dropdown list on the Design tab in PowerPoint.

Other settings that affect the look of the SmartArt are the Effects and Fonts that you have chosen for the Theme — these are also on the Design tab in PowerPoint. Themes, Colors, Fonts and Effects are all found on the Page Layout tab in Word and Excel and on the Options tab in Outlook.

SmartArt Themes screenshot
The currently selected Theme and the Color Scheme have an effect on the appearance of the SmartArt graphic.
(Click for larger image)

To further configure the look of the SmartArt graphic, click the SmartArt graphic to select it and locate the Design tab in the SmartArt Tools group (this only appears when the SmartArt is selected). Here you can select a different layout for the SmartArt using the Layouts option to select a different type of diagram.

To alter the style choose a different SmartArt Style or change to a different color using the Change Colors list. The choices you see in the Change Colors list and in the SmartArt Styles list are determined by the settings you have for the current Theme.

The new hover behavior in Office 2007 lets you preview a SmartArt format before you apply it. Simply hover your mouse over an option in a gallery, and the underlying graphic will change to show how it will look if you were to choose that option. Until you actually click on a format, you aren’t committed to using it.

One of the benefits of using SmartArt is that if the text needs alteration, it is automatically formatted to fit in the new shapes. In addition, if you add or remove headings from your text area, the remaining SmartArt shapes will resize accordingly.

Other Formatting Options

SmartArt Reflections screenshot
Using the SmartArt tools options you can add a reflection to the shapes in a SmartArt graphic.
(Click for larger image)
It is possible to select an individual shape in a SmartArt graphic and to format it separately from the other shapes. To illustrate, select the shapes containing the headings and then choose the Format tab in the SmartArt Tools area. Here you can alter the shapes’ fill, outline, or shape effects, such as adding a subtle reflection or a bevel to the shape.

The text in the shapes can be formatted as well. To do this, select the entire SmartArt Graphic or one or more shapes that contain text and click the Format tab in the SmartArt Tools area. Choose your desired text style from the WordArt Styles area. This style will remain in place even if you change the theme, although the color of the text and the font may change.

It is also possible to change the size of a shape in a SmartArt graphic. Select the graphic and click on the shape to select it. Use its sizing handles to size it and, if desired, move it to a different position in the object area.

Special Cases

SmartArt Change Size screenshot
In some cases it might make sense to alter the relative size of the shapes in a SmartArt Graphic.
(Click for larger image)
There are some special things to note about SmartArt. One of these is that there are additional SmartArt features in PowerPoint that aren’t available in other programs in the Office 2007 suite. You can convert bullet point text to a SmartArt Graphic in PowerPoint 2007 by selecting the text and, on the Home tab, clicking the Convert to SmartArt Graphic button in the Paragraph collection.

You can select a SmartArt layout from those shown or click the More SmartArt Graphics option to see more options. In PowerPoint 2007 you can also create a SmartArt Graphic by selecting the Insert SmartArt Graphic icon in a new slide layout.

Another feature unique to PowerPoint 2007 is the ability to animate a SmartArt Graphics using the animation tools. Create a SmartArt object and click the Animations tab. In the Animations group, select an animation option from the Animate dropdown list.

While SmartArt graphics can be created in Excel 2007 they don’t offer any more functionality than they do in, say Word. So you cannot, for example, link the contents of a cell to a SmartArt shape and display it there.

SmartArt Animations screenshot
A SmartArt graphic on a PowerPoint slide can be animated using the PowerPoint Animate options.

If you open an Office document, worksheet or slideshow that has been prepared with an earlier version of Office and that includes a diagram (the precursor to SmartArt), it won’t alter unless you click on it. If you click the diagram, you are offered the choice of converting it to a SmartArt Graphic or converting it to shapes. Converting it to a SmartArt Graphic is typically the best choice; however, if you choose this option, you should note that you won’t be able to edit it in an earlier version of Office.

Working with Pictures
Some SmartArt Graphics have special shapes that are designed for an image — you can recognize these by the small picture icon displayed in the shape. To add your image, click the shape to open the Insert Picture dialog and select the image to use. If you’re adding a picture to a shape that is a square or a circle, you’ll get the best possible results if you use a photo or graphic that has been cropped to a square — if you use a landscape orientation image, for example, it will be unattractively distorted.

SmartArt Pictures screenshot
Some SmartArt objects have space for images to be inserted into them.
(Click for larger image)

If the photo is a rectangle you can make it a square without needing any special graphics software if you’re using Word, PowerPoint, or Excel (this technique doesn’t work in Outlook 2007). Click outside the SmartArt object and insert the image anywhere into your document, spreadsheet or slide.

Use the Crop tool to crop it to a square and then right click it and choose Cut. Click the SmartArt object to select it, right click the shape where the picture is to go and choose Paste to paste the cropped image into position. The image will now be in the correct proportion.

Take care if you switch from one SmartArt graphic layout that has pictures in it to another one — you will lose your pictures and you will have to reinsert them in the new layout.

SmartArt objects look great, and they’re a compelling way to display text such as steps in a process and organization charts. You’re sure to find plenty of uses for them in your Office 2007 documents.
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