Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Why Can't I Do That In Visio?

Top Ten Eight Crucial Missing Features for Microsoft Visio 2013

May 13, 2014
Denis Sweeney

I have to use Visio to provide artwork for Engineers at my job. I use Visio 2013, and suffice to say that it is not the tool of choice, but since I have to use it, I make the most of it. Probably it is worth mentioning that I'm coming at this as an artist with a strong background using graphics and design applications like Adobe Illustrator, Omnigraffle, Balsamiq, and Axure. I know that one of the big reasons that engineers love Visio is that it plays well with MS Visual Basic, and integrates with Office and other MS products. I just struggle with some of the basic features that I use in other apps, that I sorely miss in Visio.


You probably already know that MS Visio is a PC-only application. Most Mac users use Omnigraffle, but another viable solution, is to run a Virtual Machine on the Mac and have Visio running on a PC virtual machine. assuming you have enough memory allotted, it works just fine. 

Partly I am posting this in hopes that I am mistaken about some of the shortcomings of Visio, and that some wizened reader will chime in and tell me of some feature I long for. And partly I am whining in hopes that some Microsoft Visio R&D engineer will happen upon this wish list and work on adding some of these great features to the application.

I understand that there may be patents involved that may get in the way, but I would hope that MS could implement slight variations on the concepts discussed to improve the software and stay out of court.

But enough pre-amble, let's get to the actual list!

These are features that should be in MS Visio 2013, but are conspicuously absent.
  1. Globally change all the instances of a font/font style.
    1. Changing fonts is a pain in the but with Visio. -Sure, they kind of allow some control with themes, but it is clunky and unpredictable. Mostly, I feel like I'm constantly fighting with the Themes. In Illustrator, with a click I can open a menu that shows all the fonts used in the active document. Then I can either review each instance, one-by-one, or I can choose to change all the instances from one font to another, or from one font/style to another font/style. [example!]
  2. Create a numbered list
    1. Sure, I can create a bulleted list but not a numbered list. I've looked and looked for this and find it hard to believe that it isn't here. Surely I'm overlooking this somewhere (please tell me I'm wrong and let me know where it is!), but I need the ability to easily show a numbered list!
  3. Have user-friendly layers functionality (visual user interface like Illustrator, where you can drag and drop between layers without changing location.
  4. Copy one or many "effects", like a specific type of shadow, that I defined for one object, and then apply it to other objects/sets of objects? Copy and paste, or even save a specific combination of styles/effects.
    1. Illustrator allows you to copy a set of effects and "paste" them to another object/ set of objects to apply the same set of effects to the selected objects. Visio should have something similar. It wastes so much time to have to apply the same style over and over to multiple objects. Especially if you took the time to do it once, and then, for whatever reason, you have to change everything with that set of effects to something else, you have to make changes again.
  5. When I update a stencil item, have it apply the update to instances in use in current documents. Or at least, upon update to a stencil item, when I open a file that uses that object, prompt me to ask if I want to update to reflect on the latest changes or not.
    1. Quark XPress and Adobe InDesign both do this the right way. They 
  6. Use an eyedropper tool to absorb an exact color, and/or apply it to one/multiple objects.
    1. This is such a basic thing in Illustrator, and it is such a pain in the ass in Visio. I'm talking about cloning colors and styles and effects that I assigned to one object, and applying the same to a second object, or to multiple other objects.
  7. Get a total changes count of how many instances were updated when I do a global "find and replace". 
    1. what it does instead, is return a vague message that says "completed", or says "We couldn't find what you are looking for.". when it succeeds in replacing across multiple pages, it should return a detailed list that says something like "Page 1: six instances changed. Page 2: three instances changed. Page 7: one instance changed. Page 8: four instances changed. A TOTAL of 14 instances were changed."
  8. Let me assign a default font. Let me assign a default theme and always start with that theme. It would include font and style and custom colors, etc.
    1. Sure, I can create a custom theme with these attributes, but it seems like I still have to select it every time I create a new document. Am I doing something wrong here? -anyone?

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Things I used to think were impossible in Visio

Please help me expand this section. If I am mistaken about any of these features -and I hope that I am - please let me know and I will update the page as needed, to share the information.

Apply paragraph settings to multiple text objects, at the same time.

I used to only access the paragraph menu by selecting text, and right-clicking to choose "Paragraph" from the drop-down menu. Using this method, it seemed impossible to apply the same changes to multiple text boxes.
Visio paragraph mini menuVisio paragraph iconHowever, after a bit of exploration, I found that there is another way to access the Paragraph menu (icon shown at right). By selecting 1 or more text boxes, then clicking the tiny paragraph icon at the top of the page, you open the paragraph dialog box and it affects all the selected text boxes the same way.

Have something to add to the list? Have a correction or something to cross off - Let me know.

Denis Sweeney is a Graphics and UI Designer in the San Franciso Bay Area.

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