One of the many new visual features available in Office 20072010 is SmartArt. This is a progression from the Diagram feature found in previous Office versions and offers a vastly improved range of graphical diagrams to choose from, with a wealth of formatting features. The results are truly stunning. This article summarises the key aspects of SmartArt.

You can find SmartArt in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. If you have one of these applications open you can find SmartArt by selecting the insert tab. The SmartArt button is in the illustrations group.

Exploring what's available in SmartArt

To explore SmartArt try opening a new file in any of these applications. Then choose insert tab and click the SmartArt button. By the way ensure you are not running in compatibility mode. If you are, you'll only see the diagram feature from earlier Office versions. So provided you're running in the right mode, the SmartArt panel appears listing all the available graphics.

In the SmartArt panel the left hand index shows all the graphics by category, such as list, process and cycle. There's also an all category which you can select to show the complete list of graphics. The right of the panel shows miniatures of the available graphics arranged by category. If you choose any category in the left hand side, the right hand list scrolls down to that particular category. If you then click on any miniature graphic, you'll see a slightly larger preview the SmartArt along with a brief description of what it does. To add the chosen graphic click the OK button.

There are lots of SmartArt graphics to choose from. In Office 2007 there are over one hundred over the various categories and in Office 2010 there are over two hundred, with additional categories for pictures and So there are lots to choose from.

To using a SmartArt Graphic you select the one you want in the panel and click the OK button. The SmartArt graphic then appears in your file. The graphic is still selected, so the additional context sensitive tabs Design and Format appear in the ribbon navigator.

In the Design tab you can change the selected SmartArt to a different type, or change how the chosen SmartArt looks by applying different SmartArt styles. The styles include bevel, shadow or 3D effects and you can auto preview a different style by hovering over it. So you can quickly and easily make fairly major design changes to your SmartArt with minimal effort.

In the Format tab you can select one or more shapes within the SmartArt graphic and change the shape's style, for example by applying different colour and fill effects.

Most SmartArt graphics have parts where you can add text. You can either type the text directly into the shape, or use the text panel, selectable in the design tab, to show a separate panel where the text can be added. This can make adding text easier if you're using relatively complex graphics. The text entered is automatically added to the graphic and you can close the text panel when finished.

Using SmartArt across the Office applications

The SmartArt feature is exactly the same in the different Office applications so you can add the graphics in exactly the same way in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. You can also create a SmartArt graphic in one application, then copy and paste it to another application. You can then edit the copied SmartArt graphic in the other application using the design and formatting tabs.

You can also copy a SmartArt graphic from an office 2007/2010 application to an Office 2003 application, because the graphic is ultimately an image. In the same way you can save as an Office 2007/2010 document containing a SmartArt graphic to the earlier Office 2003 version. If you do this you'll see a compatibility warning panel advising you that the graphic cannot be fully edited in the earlier version. If you then proceed, and subsequently open the document in Office 2003, the SmartArt graphic will display fully, but of course you will not have the full SmartArt editing capability. Instead you can edit it as a regular image within Office 2003.

So SmartArt graphics offer you a stunning range of professional looking graphics which can be easily changed and you can apply lots of different formatting effects to the graphic such as shadow or reflection. If you're interested in learning more about this and many other features in Office 2007/2010 you might like to consider attending a training course. This can be a really effective way to build your skills in using the many new Office features.