Visio Insights
The official blog of the Microsoft Visio product team

Retooling for Success

Retooling for Success

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This is the fifth topic in a series discussing the essential features that make up the Visio application.


Essential Feature:  Drawing Tools

Visio bills itself as a diagramming application, and Drag & Drop is the core feature that makes Visio easy to use.  However, Visio is also a pretty good drawing application and has a set of tools that can create different geometric primitives such as circles and lines.  One of the original reasons for including drawing tools in the product was to enable users to make their own shapes.  In practice, the drawing tools are just as useful for building diagrams as they are for creating new shapes.


Historically, all the tools available in Visio have been located on the Standard toolbar, though some tools are now found underneath others.  We significantly reorganized the tools in Visio 2003 to improve usability for new users.  The tools were divided into those related to diagramming such as the Connector tool and those related to drawing such as the Line tool.  The drawing tools were placed into their own toolbar named Drawing.  This change reinforced the notion that Visio is a diagramming app first and foremost, and new users seemed to respond positively.  For those that need to do a lot of drawing with the drawing tools, there is likely a benefit to having a separate toolbar as well.



Another change in Visio 2003 was the switching behavior for tools.  In usability studies we found that many users would toggle the tools off accidentally, so the selection behavior was changed to remove the toggle.  You must now click on the Pointer tool or another tool to deactivate the current tool.  One exception is that closing the Drawing toolbar will switch the current tool back to the Pointer if one of the drawing tools was active.






Pointer Tool

Standard toolbar


General shape manipulation

Text Tool

Standard toolbar


Adding & editing text

Connector Tool

Standard toolbar


Drawing connectors

Pencil Tool

Drawing toolbar


Drawing lines & arcs

Freeform Tool

Drawing toolbar


Drawing curves

Line Tool

Drawing toolbar


Drawing lines, editing geometry

Arc Tool

Drawing toolbar


Drawing arcs

Rectangle Tool

Drawing toolbar


Drawing rectangles

Ellipse Tool

Drawing toolbar


Drawing circles and ellipses

Connection Point Tool

Underneath Connector Tool


Adding connection points to shapes

Crop Tool

Picture toolbar


Cropping images

Stamp Tool

Standard toolbar customization well


One click placement of shapes

Text Block Tool

Underneath Text Tool


Moving shape text

Format Painter Tool

Standard toolbar


Copy & paste formatting between shapes


The Visio Product Team has a long term goal to reduce the amount of tool switching required to build diagrams.  In Visio 2003 the Rotation tool was removed, and a rotation handle was added to the shape handle set.  Now you only need the Pointer tool to manipulate the orientation of shapes.  Visio 2007 adds an Insert Text Box command to the Insert menu, which allows you to add a single piece of text to the drawing without switching to the Text tool.  Also the new AutoConnect feature is intended to reduce the switching between the Pointer and Connector tools.


These changes make drawing and diagramming in Visio more efficient, but there will always be a need for tools.  Whether you want to reposition a text block to just the right place or draw a rectangle around a group of shapes to relate them together, you will find everyday uses for the tools in Visio.  And when you decide to make your own shapes, the Drawing Tools become essential.


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