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Add Structure to Your Diagrams in Microsoft Visio 2016

This chapter from Microsoft Visio 2016 Step By Step guides you through procedures related to organizing shapes by using containers or lists, finding containers and lists in Visio, and annotating shapes by using callouts.

In many types of Visio diagrams, it’s useful to create visual or logical relationships among a set of shapes. The traditional technique for doing this in Visio has been to use background shapes and groups. However, Visio 2016 offers three special shape types—containers, lists, and callouts—that can be even more effective when you want to establish relationships and add structure to your diagrams.

Structured diagram shapes are so useful that Visio itself relies on them for a growing number of templates and special uses. For example, you will find lists and containers in swimlane diagrams, wireframes, and data graphic legends; and you will encounter callouts in the Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) template (Visio Professional only).

This chapter guides you through procedures related to organizing shapes by using containers or lists, finding containers and lists in Visio, and annotating shapes by using callouts.

Understand containers, lists, and callouts

Visio 2010 introduced three structured diagram shape types:

  • Containers A container provides a visual boundary around a set of objects, but it also establishes a logical relationship between the container and the objects within it—shapes know when they are members of a container and containers know which shapes they contain.

    The key advantage of a container is that while you can move, copy, or delete it and its members as a unit, each contained shape maintains its independence. Unlike grouped shapes, selecting an object inside a container only requires one click, which makes it simple to access the shape data and other properties of a container member.

  • Lists A list is a special type of container that maintains an ordered relationship among its members. Each object in a list knows its ordinal position, and new objects are not merely added to a list but are added to a specific position in a list.

  • Callouts In previous versions of Visio, a callout was merely a shape that you glued to another shape to add a comment. A Visio 2016–style callout still provides a way to add annotation to a shape, but the callout knows the shape to which it is attached, and the shape can identify any attached callouts.

What is the value to you if shapes know where they live and containers and lists know what they contain? Think about a shape that automatically knows whether it’s first, second, or third in a list and displays that data (explained in the section “Add shapes to lists” in the “Organize shapes by using lists” topic later in this chapter). Or think about the potential uses for a shape that displays data from its parent container—and the data changes automatically if you move the shape to a different container (covered in the “Explore swimlanes” section in the “Find containers and lists in Visio” topic later in this chapter).

Although it’s true that containers, lists, and callouts are just Visio shapes, each includes unique properties and formulas that give it special capabilities.