Themes: Great Results in a few clicks

Hi, I’m back again from another round of traveling (thanks for the messages from people wondering where I was!) and I’ve still got more new features to tell you about in Visio 2007. This week I’m going to spend some time talking about the new Themes feature and some of the other improvements to how diagrams are formatting that we’ve been working on.

One of the things that really struck me when we went out talking to customers during the planning phase of Visio 2007 was how many Visio diagrams are being used in presentations, and how the graphical quality of Visio diagrams was becoming increasingly important. Visio diagrams used to be more technically focused, and the formatting took a distant second place to the content. This is changing. Frequently the diagrams were being used to propose a new business system to upper management, whether it was an improved business process, an addition to the IT network infrastructure, or a new organization structure. In these situations, having the diagram look sharp and professional becomes crucial to being able to sell the idea. The content is still the most important aspect, but being easy on the eye isn't just fluff anymore.

Today in Visio 2003, you can make some terrific looking diagrams.  The problem is that you really have to dig deep into our formatting UI and perform a ton of tweaks in order to get there.  You’d have to navigate among all of these menu items, each which takes you to a big multi-tabbed dialog, in order to format everything:

And you’d have to do this for each different type of shape in your diagram.  This takes more time and expertise that most people are willing or able to spend.  Even then, some of our shapes did not behave very well when formatting was applied to them (I’m talking about you, network equipment shapes!).

Here you can see what happens in Visio 2003 when you apply a fill color to one of the new network equipment shapes. All of the detail and shading of the shape gets washed away and replaced with a single color of red. So even if you did spend a lot of time formatting in Visio, you might not get the best results.

The main feature we are adding in Visio 2007 to help make formatting your diagrams easier is called Themes. What Themes allow you to do is to format your entire document at the same time with a couple clicks. We’ve shipped a set of pre-defined Theme Colors and what we call Theme Effects (combinations of line styles, fill styles, text formatting and shadows) that have been created by designers to look great together. To use Themes, you simply click on different thumbnails for Theme Colors and Theme Effects in the Themes task pane until you find a combination that you like for your diagram. 

This applies formatting to every shape in your diagram all at once. So you can quickly go from this:

To something that looks more like this:

Visio 2007 provides about 36 sets of Theme Colors and 14 sets of Theme Effects, and by mixing and matching between these two, there are hundreds of formatting combinations. You can also define your own Theme Colors or Theme Effects. So if you want to create a specific corporate look for all of your company’s diagrams, you can do so and share that with everyone in your organization.

In addition to the set of colors and effects that we provide, we’ve also done a lot of work with our shapes in Visio 2007 to make them work better with Themes and with formatting in general. We took a look at some of the more complex shapes such as the network equipment shapes that were introduced in Visio 2003 and came up with ways to apply formatting in more precise ways. So now instead of creating that weird red-looking computer I showed you above, with Visio 2007, the computer would look more like this:

We’re also introducing an updated set of shapes in Visio 2007 that have a richer, more 3D look. These shapes are new versions of the “workflow” stencil shapes that are in previous versions of Visio. They are great for showing different departments in a company or different stages of a typical business process. Here are a few examples of the shapes:

And here is how they react when a green Theme Color is applied to them:

So you can see how the main part of the shape picks up the green color, but the details don’t lose their own specific colors. The same thing would happen if you selected the shape and choose a green fill color. This makes it a lot less painful to apply colors to the more complex shapes than it was in Visio 2003. The Color By Value feature in Data Graphics also benefits from these improvements, so you can use Color by Value to color different network shapes based on server status, for example, and they will look great.

So imagine that you’ve applied some Theme Colors to your diagram and you want to go in and add some accent colors to specific shapes to call them out. In the flowchart above, for instance, I called out the “Start” and “Paperwork verified” shapes by making them a different color. You also probably want these accent colors to go well with the general Theme Colors you’ve applied to the diagram. And if you change to different Theme Colors, the accent colors should still go well with the new colors. To help enable these types of scenarios, we’ve also updated the color picker in Visio 2007 to be Theme-aware. Now you can pick from a large range of colors that are based on the currently selected Theme Colors, and also from a set of “Standard Colors” that are generally useful (such as red, yellow and green). Here’s what the new Theme-aware color picker looks like:

If you pick colors from the “Theme Colors” part of the color picker, you can be sure that the colors will go well together, and will also update when you change to a different set of Theme Colors using the task pane. If you pick colors from the “Standard Colors” area, these often have a specific meaning (such as using green to call out positive trends) will always remain constant even if you change Theme Colors. And of course you can still go in and define your own custom colors if you don’t find the exact right color in the ones we provide.

I hope that gives you a quick idea of the ways we are working to make it easier to create a great looking diagram in Visio 2007. One final thing I wanted to mention: when you are happy with how your diagram looks and maybe want to include it in a PowerPoint slide deck for presentation, we've also done some work to help your diagram look good on the slide. Visio 2007 will ship the same set of Theme Colors as PowerPoint 2007, so you can go in and make a Visio diagram match the colors in your presentation.