Hello, I'm Chris Murphy — I specialize in creating engaging, user-centric interactive experiences.

Visio Productivity Tips

The majority of my work as of late has been on the planning side of my service offering, e.g. Interaction Design and User Interface Design, and most of the artefacts of my work are typically generated with Visio. This past year has provided me with many opportunities and challenges in working with Visio and improving my efficiency with the tool.

I thought I would take some time to share some of the lessons have helped to improve my efficiency with Visio (2007).

For the record: I’m not a die-hard fan of Visio, but rather I believe in choosing The Right Tool for The Job. In this case, Visio has been most effective, though I do use other tools when Visio is not appropriate.

Quick Links:

  1. Tip No. 1: Backgrounds & Guides
  2. Tip No. 2: Use Layers to Group Common Elements
  3. Tip No. 3: Use “Shape Data” for Common Shapes

Tip No. 1: Backgrounds & Guides

Guides provide a great way to implement consistent columns and rows for a page. This is useful when planning a series of pages derived from a common layout.


In my wireframe document, I have three different types of background pages for common page configurations. Each page has a defined “working area” where I layout my shapes and other elements. In the past, I have typically resorted to adding guides on each page, and most of these guides are aligned to the “working area” previously described.

The problem is that I’m having to add new guides to each page I create. I’ve tried a variety of techniques to manage my guides, and the one I had settled on previously (and still use to some degree) is copy/pasting my guides (and other shapes) using a macro called:


I found the macro on Welie.com, and suffice to say this did improve my efficiency, but only to a degree.

Note: Wellie.com is a great source for useful macros for Visio beyond just the one function.


A better solution was a heck of a lot easier than I realized: add the guides to your background pages.

Using guides in the background pages allows me to ensure consistency in terms of shape dimensions (vertically and horizontally), by allowing me to “snap” a shape to align to a guide. This approach has the added bonus of minimizing the number of additional guides I need top drop onto a page. I’ve only discovered this one feature recently, and it’s really helped to minimize the amount of repetitive work I had to do in preparing the pages.

Tip No. 2: Use Layers to Group Common Elements

This one takes a little bit of time to get in the habit of doing, and at some point, I’ll get around to writing a macro to automate it.


There are times where I have a number of shapes or a collection of shapes that I want to show or hide when I output the document for a client review (*.PDF). In the past, I have resorted to commandeering Acrobat’s layer’s feature, but the learning curb for clients was a little too high for me to expect to use that as a long-term solution.


What I ended up doing was using Visio’s “Layers” feature to group common elements together by assigning selected shapes to a layer. You can see a quick demo/tutorial on how to use Visio’s Layers here.

This approach allowed me to toggle shapes such as annotations or overlays (e.g. “Modal Windows”) on certain pages, and hide them altogether for others.

This approach does come with a small caveat: if you want to show all of the hidden layers in your document, e.g. annotations, you’ll need to either produce one document with all of the elements showing, or two documents—one with all the elements showing, and the second without.

Tip No. 3:  Use “Shape Data” for Common Shapes

In an earlier article, I provided a detailed tutorial on how to leverage the Shape Data features for adding prompts with input fields (with some intelligent behaviour). This one feature has allowed me to improve how I manage and work with text and information I add to my wireframes, etc.


You might have a pretty concise library of common elements that you use on a regular basis, and a few of them require that you update a number of fields. A good example of this is Nick Finck’s Sitemap Stencils which are still in use by designers today.  If you’re using the stencils, you’ll likely have discovered that you need to click a number of times to drill down into the desired field before you can enter any text (the page ID for example).


Use Visio’s Shape Data features to help automate the task of data entry and editing for common shapes. Apply this feature sparingly as it is easy to go over-board with the technique.

Shape Data can improve the task of updating and manage these shapes by automating the data-entry task. I won’t go into great detail here, but if you want more information about how to accomplish this, take a read through my tutorial: Creating a Reusable Shape with Visio Shape Data Support.

What’s Next:

There are a number of great sources for more tips on using Visio’s lesser used features (and some of it’s more advanced features); one such source is VisGuy.com—from whom I have learned a great deal about Visio.

If you have any tips of your own, please feel free to share them here.


Comments on This Post:

  1. Chris Murphy
    Date: March 25, 2010
    Time: 1:06 pm

    No worries–I have a short series in the works on creating stencils that will cwn out in the next few weeks if things go well.

  2. Tokodr
    Date: December 9, 2011
    Time: 7:00 pm


    below are some links I found useful…

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