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Add Structure to Your Diagrams in Microsoft Visio 2016

Find containers and lists in Visio

Several Visio 2016 templates take advantage of the properties of containers and lists to enhance ease of use and to add valuable features. In this section, you will discover three examples.

Explore swimlanes

Cross-functional flowcharts, also known as swimlane diagrams, provide one of the most prominent examples of list and container usage in Visio.

The swimlane add-in was completely redesigned when lists and containers were introduced in Visio 2010. The net effect of the redesign is that a cross-functional flowchart (CFF) is a list of containers: the framework that holds swimlanes is a list, and each swimlane is a container.

Evidence of containers and lists appears as soon as you drag a shape into a swimlane—a green border appears around the lane, as shown in Figure 13-18.

Figure 13-18

Figure 13-18 The combination of container feedback and the Dynamic Grid simplify positioning of new shapes in a swimlane

Because the overall swimlane structure is a list, it includes a heading. Similarly, each swimlane has a heading. You can change the text of either, which was done in the image shown in Figure 13-18, by selecting the swimlane structure or a swimlane and then entering text.

Further evidence that the swimlane structure is a list is shown in Figure 13-19. With the pointer at the left end of the lanes and positioned on the boundary between two lanes, the Insert Shape triangle appears.

Figure 13-19

Figure 13-19 Adding new lanes to a diagram is easy because of the list structure

Clicking the Insert Shape triangle produces the result shown in Figure 13-20. Notice that Visio extends dynamic connectors, as required, to accommodate the new lane.

Figure 13-20

Figure 13-20 Visio rearranges existing lanes when you add or remove lanes

Because swimlanes reside in a list, you can rearrange the sequence of swimlanes by dragging the heading of a lane up or down.

Swimlane diagrams derive another benefit from being built by using containers: shapes in a container know where they are contained. To find evidence of this, examine the Function field in the shape data for any flowchart shape in a swimlane.

As an example, data for the process shape in the upper left of Figure 13-20 is shown in the image on the left in Figure 13-21, and the data for the decision diamond is shown on the right. In both cases, the value in the Function field is derived dynamically from the swimlane heading. If you change the value of the swimlane title, the Function field will be updated for all contained shapes. If you move a shape to a new lane, the Function field will reflect the heading of the new lane.

Figure 13-21

Figure 13-21 The Function field automatically displays the name of the swimlane that contains each flowchart shape

Build wireframes

Visio 2016 includes a revamped set of user interface (UI) design shapes that were initially introduced in Visio 2010. For this topic, the key point of interest about the redesigned shapes is that many of them are either containers or lists.

Software designers use wireframe shapes to create mockups of dialog boxes and other visual elements that will be displayed by their applications. When you use Visio 2016 to create a mockup of a dialog box, you will find that the Dialog Form shape is a container. Consequently, as you add buttons and controls to your dialog box, those buttons and controls become container members. If you move, copy, or delete your dialog box, all of the contained shapes are automatically included. If you have ever created a UI mockup by using Visio 2007 or earlier, it won’t take more than a moment or two of experimentation to realize how significant an improvement this is.

Some Visio 2016 UI shapes are lists, including, not surprisingly, the List Box control. When you drag one into a Dialog Form container, the list is prepopulated with three list members. You can add, delete, and resequence list members by dragging them, as described in “Add shapes to lists” earlier in this chapter.

The following three figures highlight some of the containers and lists in the wireframe template.

Adding a button control to a Dialog Form container lights up the border of the dialog box shape, as shown in Figure 13-22.

Figure 13-22

Figure 13-22 The Dialog Form shape is a container

On the left in Figure 13-23, a panel is added to the dialog box container. Because the panel shape is, itself, a container, adding a tab to the top edge of the panel causes the top panel border to illuminate.

Figure 13-23

Figure 13-23 Multiple containers comprise the wireframe shapes

The list box control exhibits standard list behavior when adding new list elements, as shown in Figure 13-24.

Figure 13-24

Figure 13-24 A list inside a container inside a container

The wireframe shapes provide further evidence that nested containers and lists are practical solutions for creating Visio diagrams.

Insert data graphic legends

In Chapter 9, “Visualize your data,” you worked with data graphics and then added an automatically generated legend to your diagram. A data graphic legend is actually a structure consisting of an outer list, one or more containers as list members, and lists within those containers.

For example, the same legend is shown in both images in Figure 13-25. The structure is loosely visible on the left. However, after selecting the entire legend, the telltale green borders are apparent on the right. You can identify three containers—Legend, Owner, and Risk—and two vertical lists, one in each of the Owner and Risk containers.

Figure 13-25

Figure 13-25 Data graphic legends are created from lists and containers

When you work with data graphic legends, you will discover that you can add, delete, rename, edit, and move legend components, just as you can with the headings and members of any unlocked containers and lists.