Five tips for using SmartArt in Office 2010

Sometimes the best way to convey information is by using a diagram. In those situations, you may want to take advantage of SmartArt to put together a stylish illustration.

SmartArt is the diagramming tool included in the major Office 2010 applications. You can use it to create organizational charts, show processes in action, demonstrate relationships among departments, and much more. The new version of SmartArt makes wrangling pictures pretty simple too, if you want to include them as part of your diagram.

1: Think it through first

SmartArt is a great tool if you know what you want to convey to your readers. If you aren't sure, or you think you'll just try a diagram and see whether it works, think again. Few things are more painful than trying to force-fit a diagram that just isn't going to work. Taking a moment to sketch out what you want to show, to line up the relationships, and to determine what comes after what will save you a lot of time when you go to create the SmartArt. Knowing a bit about the various SmartArt styles will also help you choose the right diagram style to show what you want to show. So take a moment to click through the different SmartArt styles to see what they do best. Then, when you choose your diagram and begin creating the graphic you need, things should just flow.

2: Expand as needed

Once you've selected the diagram style you need, you can easily add shapes, text, pictures, and more as you expand the diagram you created. Click a shape in the area where you want to extend the diagram; then, click Add Shape in the Create Graphic group of the SmartArt Tools Design tab. Click Add Shape After or Add Shape Before to choose the position of the new shape (Figure A). You can move the shape as needed using the other tools in the Create Graphic group as well.

Figure A

Create your diagram and use Add Shape to add, move, and arrange shapes.

3: Tighten your text

One of the challenges of creating an effective SmartArt diagram involves making your text so concise that you can say in a few clear words what you want the diagram to convey. You can control the size, color, and special effects of the text you add. You can add titles, paragraphs, and more if you like -- but for the best, clearest results, keep things as simple as possible. Using the Text Pane can help you enter text concisely. Display it by clicking the arrows on the left side of the SmartArt frame or click Text Pane in the Create Graphic group of the SmartArt Tools Design tab.

4: Add special touches

Once you add those little text gems, you can make the words look good by applying all sorts of special formats using the tools in the SmartArt Tools Format tab (Figure B). You can choose from standard WordArt styles, change text color, and apply a variety of special effects, like shadows, glows, and reflections. You can also add designer touches to the shapes on your diagram by changing the layout, color, and shadow and 3D effects.

Figure B

Use the tools in the SmartArt Tools Format tab to spruce up the text in your diagram.

5: Finish up with artwork

SmartArt has been enhanced in Office 2010 to enable you to easily add pictures to the diagrams you create. The new Picture SmartArt style appears in the Choose A SmartArt Graphics dialog box that appears when you click the Insert tab and click SmartArt in the Illustrations group. When you choose a Picture diagram, the picture placeholders are already included in the SmartArt that appears on your page. Just click the placeholder and the Insert Picture dialog box opens so that you can choose the image you want to use. Once you add the pictures, you can use the tools on the Picture Tools Format tab to make them really pop.