“Organizing Your Diagrams with Containers and Lists” – May 17, 2011
Notes from Scott:
I’ve created an EE Webinar Follow-up Page for the Experts Exchange seminar. The page includes
links to download several of the Visio diagrams I used during the webinar, along with additional files
that are referenced in my answers below.
Several of my answers refer to specific pages or chapters in my book, Visio 2010 Step by Step. In
particular, Chapter 11, “Adding Structure to Your Diagrams,” describes containers and lists.
I made an error when answering one of the questions at the end of the seminar. Please see question
17 below for the correct cell name required to turn a Visio shape into a list or container.
Visio Insights is “The official blog of the Microsoft Visio product team.” If you really want to learn a
lot about Visio 2010 check out any of the articles on the blog: many are user oriented, while others
are moderately to very technical.
If you have questions about Visio, be sure to visit the Visio Zone at Experts Exchange!
If you need assistance with customizing Visio, developing a Visio-based solution, or just want to discuss
ways to use Visio for work or at home, don’t hesitate to contact me.
Scott A. Helmers
+1 978-800-4590 x103
1.) I would love to have the network mapping feature. Where or how could it be enabled?
The network shapes I used in my examples were all taken from the two stencils that are
included with the Basic Network Diagram template. All three editions of Visio 2010 – Standard,
Professional and Premium – include the Basic Network Diagram template and stencils.
The Professional and Premium editions of Visio 2010 also include a Detailed Network Diagram
template that includes six additional stencils. Page 276 in Visio 2010 Step by Step includes a side-
by-side comparison of the stencils in the Basic and Detailed templates.
Also see question #7 below.
2.) From a cut-and-paste perspective, how does a container 'interact' with PowerPoint, e.g. can I
alter an object within a container once it's been pasted into PowerPoint?
If you copy a container and simply paste it into PowerPoint, you end up with a picture object on
your slide. It’s no different than any other image on a slide.
However, if you use Paste Special and select Microsoft Visio Drawing Object, the result is an
embedded Visio object. Double-clicking the object opens it in Visio where it retains all of its
container behaviors. Note: in order for the container to be recognized in an embedded Visio
object, you must be using Visio 2010 (any version of PowerPoint is fine).
For an example of the difference between Paste and Paste Special, refer to question 2 download
on the EE Webinar Follow-up Page.
3.) Is Visio 2010 backward compatible?
Visio 2010 files can be opened and edited in Visio 2007 and Visio 2003. However, features that
are new in Visio 2010, such as containers and lists, will not operate in previous versions of Visio.
4.) Can we put a list within a list? Or a container within a list?
Fact 1: A container can contain shapes, other containers and lists.
Fact 2: A list can contain shapes and containers but cannot contain other lists.
The Visio 2010 cross-functional flowchart (swimlane) structure is a list and each
swimlane is a container. Therefore, a Visio 2010 swimlane diagram is a list of containers.
The theater seating chart is a list of lists, however, fact #2 above means that there must
be an intermediate container in order to nest the lists. The structure is summarized in
the diagram below, which is accompanied by additional explanation in the question 4
download on the EE Webinar Follow-up Page.
5.) I've been using visio for over 10 years and I love its functionalities, but I sure miss the database
and network (AD) reverse engineering feature the Visio 2000 Enterprise offered, are there
similar functionalities in the 2010 version?
First, there is an important distinction between
Reverse engineering – creating a Visio database model from an existing database
Forward engineering – creating a database from a Visio database model.
You are correct that Microsoft removed the forward engineering capability from Visio a decade
or so ago. That feature is only available with the combination of an MSDN Premium Subscription
and selected versions of Visual Studio. Refer to this MSDN article for more information.
The reverse engineering capability has remained in Visio throughout all recent versions,
including Visio 2010. However, the Database Model Diagram template that includes this feature
is not in the Standard edition of Visio. Therefore, you must have the Professional edition of Visio
2003 or 2007 to use this option. In Visio 2010, the Database Model Diagram template is included
in both the Professional and Premium editions.
In Visio 2010, click the File tab then New. In the Template Categories section, click Software
and Database, and then click Database Model Diagram. On the Database tab, click the Reverse
6.) Does live preview apply to any other objects other than text?
Yes. Live preview works with many things in Visio 2010 including fill color, line color,
container/list format, container/list header format, data graphics… and many more.
7.) Will Scott be covering the best places to find additional network diagram icons?
Not in this seminar. However, you will find a list of great web sites for downloading network
shapes in Chapter 9, “Drawing the Real World: Network and Data Center Diagrams,” in Visio
2010 Step by Step.
8.) Are all these features available in a Visio diagram that was built in 2010 but viewed in 2007?
Please see the answer to question 3.
9.) How do you find the Software shapes?
I created the software shapes that I used in the Visio 2010 list example using five basic steps:
Draw a rectangle.
Add a Shape Data field that contains the name of a software product.
Turn the rectangle into a list (see question 17 below).
Add two formulas to the User section of the ShapeSheet. The pair of formulas creates a
ShapeSheet cell that contains one of two values: it contains the ordinal position of the shape
when the shape is in a list, and it contains a blank if the shape is not in a list.
Add a field to each rectangle. The field displays the value of the ShapeSheet cell described in
the previous step plus the value of the Shape Data field, i.e., the name of the software
product. The result is a shape that looks like the one on the left when it’s in a list and the
one on the right when it’s not.
For information about the Visio ShapeSheet – what it is and what you can do with it – refer to
the question 9 download on the EE Webinar Follow-up Page (it’s an excerpt from the appendix
to my book).
10.) Do we have to use the mouse? Are there keyboard shortcuts?
There are dozens of Visio keyboard shortcuts; there is a comprehensive list on this Visio help
11.) What have you added to the QAT?
You are very observant! One of the things I love about the ribbon user interface in Visio 2010 is
that it is so customizable. As you noticed during the seminar, I’ve added several frequently used
buttons to the Quick Access Toolbar (QAT): Save As, Open, Recent (file list), Switch Windows.
You can customize both the QAT and the ribbon by clicking the File tab, then Options. In the
Visio Options dialog box that appears, you can click on either Customize Ribbon or Quick Access
Toolbar (there is more information about this on pages 399-400 of Visio 2010 Step by Step).
If you’d like to import the specific settings I used for the QAT during the webinar, refer to the
download for question 11 on the EE Webinar Follow-up Page. Unzip the downloaded file, open
the Quick Access Toolbar customization screen as described in the preceding paragraph, and
then click the Import/Export button in the lower right corner.
12.) How did you activate the shape data panel? I didn't see that?
There are several ways to open the Shape Data window:
On the Data tab in the Show/Hide group, click Shape Data Window.
Right-click any shape, then select Data>Shape Data.
On the View tab, click Task Panes and then click Shape Data.
Once the Shape Data window is open, you can leave it floating over the drawing page, or you
can dock it at the edges of the drawing window. If you dock it, you can click the “push pin” icon
on the window header to turn AutoHide on or off.
13.) When you copy the wireframe example and name the text, does the copy of the object treated
as a separate object?
When you copy any Visio shape, including a container or a list, and then paste it onto the same
or another page, the pasted object is a separate, unrelated shape.
14.) What apps can Visio be imported into besides PowerPoint? As you import and export out, will
the groups and containers stay intact?
You can paste Visio shapes into many applications in the Microsoft Office suite as well as into
many other applications outside of Office.
Please refer to the answer for question number 2 for information about whether
containers/lists remain intact after being pasted into another application.
15.) If there are object data to fill out for each different object ... can you reference the data as an
export to a spreadsheet format ?
The Professional and Premium editions of Visio 2010 provide easy ways to connect objects in a
Visio drawing to external data sources such as Excel workbooks, SQL and other databases,
SharePoint lists, and more. Once you’ve linked shapes in the drawing to external data, you can
update the drawing manually or automatically so the drawing reflects the latest data.
16.) For creating a Network Topology , does each object have openable data ... you double-click to
open up a picture of a server and there is data fields that you can fill out with regards to that
server picture ... ?
Yes. The shapes that are included in the Basic Network Diagram and Detailed Network Diagram
templates contain predefined Shape Data fields. Refer to question 12 for information about
opening the Shape Data window.
17.) I missed how you created the list, where is that hidden? How do you configure the list types?
Visio 2010 includes a variety of pre-defined containers, but does not include a similar gallery for
lists. Consequently, to create a list you either need to copy and modify an existing list, or create
one from scratch. Fortunately, creating a basic list from scratch is extremely easy if you are
familiar with using the Visio ShapeSheet. (For an introduction to the ShapeSheet, see the
download for question on the EE Webinar Follow-up Page.)
To turn a shape into a list:
Select the shape and open the ShapeSheet (refer to question 21 to open the ShapeSheet).
Inset a User-defined cells section if one doesn’t already exist.
Insert a new row and then type this name for the row:
(NOTE: the name shown above is correct; I typed the wrong name during the seminar.)
Enter a value of “List”.
The user section of your ShapeSheet should look like this:
That’s it! You have created a list. If you would like a copy of the Visio container-list-callout
drawing I used during the webinar, see the download for question 17 on the EE Webinar Follow-
By the way, to create a container, set the Value field to “Container”.
There a number of articles about containers and lists on the Visio Insights blog, including a
moderately technical post with details about the other parameters used to set list and container
18.) Can I change the default font? Maybe to Verdana or Comic Sans?
Though I haven’t done it, I understand that it is possible to change Visio’s default font. Two
important cautions, however. 1) Changing the default font requires that you edit the Windows
registry. 2) Changing the default font may not accomplish what you want – in fact, I would
venture to guess that it will not. The reason is that when you drag shapes onto the page from a
stencil, it’s the properties of the master in the stencil that determine what fonts are used for the
shape. Consequently, even if you alter the “default” font, shapes dragged from stencils will
ignore the change because they’ve been predesigned with a specific set of attributes.
The better solution in Visio 2010 is to use themes (click the Design tab to view the Themes
gallery). A theme can contain fill colors and patterns, line colors and patterns, font styles and
other attributes. When you apply a theme to a diagram, all theme-compatible shapes (which is
most shapes) will inherit the attributes of your theme.
You’re not stuck using only the themes that are included with Visio. You can customize them any
way you’d like. For example, you might want a theme that doesn’t change any colors but that
just alters font attributes.
Refer to Chapter 5, “Applying Style, Color, and Themes,” in Visio 2010 Step by Step for additional
19.) Can the dialog box be imported into FrontPage? I'm not sure how this lovely feature can be used
on the back end.
I assume that you are referring to the dialog box mockup I created while demonstrating list and
container use in Visio. In that case, the answer is no – the Visio Wireframe template is strictly for
creating visual mockups. There are special purpose wireframing tools that software developers
use to do what you’re asking about, but Visio does not.
To read about using Visio to design the user interface for a SharePoint application, please see
this article by Derek Weeks, Marketing Director at Global 360. As an aside, Global 360 products
include a very cool BPMN-based process simulation tool, analystView, that runs as an add-in
with Visio 2010 Premium. It’s pretty amazing to watch a full-scale simulation run inside Visio.
(Disclosure: though I have no current financial connection to Global 360, they hired me to write
the “Getting Started” guide for analystView in 2010.)
20.) Can I change the default color scheme?
Absolutely. Please see the information about themes in the second through fourth paragraphs
of my answer to question 18.
21.) What is needed in order to get the ShapeSheet windows? Is this is a separate developer tool?
The ShapeSheet window is accessible when you run Visio in developer mode. Don’t let the name
frighten you – you don’t need to be a software developer to run Visio in developer mode. For
more information about developer mode, refer to the question 21 download on the EE Webinar
Follow-up Page (it’s an excerpt from the appendix to my book).
22.) Can the shapes support 3D/shading, etc..
Visio is not a 3D drawing program, however, it is possible to create shapes with 3D-like shading,
bevels and other attributes.
23.) Are the features presented today available only in Visio 2010 and not in 2003 or 2007?
Nearly everything I demonstrated during the webinar is only available in Visio 2010. Keep in
mind, however, that I did show a few pre-2010 features in order to compare them to 2010, e.g.,
old-style callouts vs. 2010 callouts; groups vs. 2010 containers.
24.) Can you export a container as a shape, like you can with a group?
A container is a shape, albeit a shape with very special properties and behavior. Consequently,
you can copy and paste containers (and their contents). Refer to questions 2 and 14 above for
25.) Does Visio 2010 have any easy solutions for making the text below the shape more legible?
You can make changes to the attributes of multiple shapes at once: if you select multiple shapes
and apply new text, fill or other properties, the change will be made to all selected shapes.
In addition, you can apply themes to all shapes in a diagram. Refer to the second through fourth
paragraphs of the answer to question 18 for more information about themes.
Finally, if you have a set of shapes that you use regularly, you can apply whatever combination
of styles and themes you’d like, and then create masters from your shapes by dragging them
into a stencil. From that point on, when you drag a shape onto the drawing page, it will already
have your preferred attributes.
26.) Will the auto connections work in network diagrams?
Yes. AutoConnect works with all shapes on the page.
27.) How do I change the default font size for all text in Visio 2010?
Refer to the answer to question 18 for more information about themes.
28.) Scott - can you compare TaskMap to Visio 2010 for us?
TaskMap® is a Visio add-in designed for one purpose: to make it easy to create readable and
understandable process maps. TaskMaps are used to document, analyze and improve processes,
whether you’re working on an “as is” process or designing a “to be” process.
If you’d like to try TaskMap, you can download a free, 30-day trial version of TaskMap
Professional. Nothing is hidden in the evaluation version – all features are available.
With the current version of TaskMap you’ll find features that extend TaskMap outside of Visio.
For example, you can:
Import process data from Excel.
Save process data to a preformatted Excel workbook.
Turn your TaskMap into a Microsoft Project plan.
Publish your TaskMap as a website.
Publish your TaskMap process map as a PowerPoint presentation, complete with cover slide
and hyperlinked Table of Contents.
TaskMap Standard runs with any edition of Visio 2010, 2007 or 2003.
TaskMap Professional runs with the Professional or Premium editions of Visio 2010 or the
Professional edition of Visio 2007.
(Note from Scott: despite what you might think, I did not plant this question here myself!
Thanks to whoever asked.)