3 Quick & Easy Ways to Update and Repurpose Visio Files

People love to see processes and systems visually mapped out. Visio is Microsoft’s made-to-order tool that delivers these capabilities. However, just because it’s made specifically for visual mapping doesn’t mean that the results are going to be stunning—the design, look, and feel depending on the user.

Whether it’s an eyesore or a file with good information that just needs to be tweaked, it’s often easier to work with the existing file than to start over from scratch. In this blog, we’ll explore three quick and easy ways to refresh and repurpose Visio files.

1. Review and edit the information for clarity

If you’re like me, you’ll want to jump right into the look and feel of the document, but it’s better to start out by considering the basic information it presents.

What kind of file are you working with? Is it a flowchart, diagram, timeline, or just a plain old chart? Given that flowcharts are often the most complex and popular Visio usage, this tutorial will lean towards that use case.

Here is an example of an inherited Visio file we’d like to revamp.

  • Swim lanes

Your existing file may or may not include swim lanes for clarity. A swim lane is used to show who is in charge of what. If you choose to implement this design tactic in your chart, you can highlight inefficiencies, hangups, or delays in the process.

Setting up a diagram in this way allows you to analyze it clearly so you may make changes that increase quality and decrease unnecessary work and costs.

Lanes may be horizontal or vertical. In more complex processes, you might have both types. For example, department lanes run horizontally, and the process stages run vertically, progressing left to right.

To add a separator to begin creating lanes, you can search the left “Shapes” sidebar for “Separator.” If your file features connectors, I recommend going into the “Design” tab, and in the layout section, select “Connectors” to disable the “Show Line Jumps” feature.

Add as many separators as you need. Be sure to add titles to your lanes. This is easy to do by adding a text box.

  • Flow

As the file information moves, a natural flow occurs. Examine each step and think about the purpose of the document overall, are you documenting an existing process as it actually occurs or as you’d like it to occur?

Remember, you’re not just transferring data. To truly repurpose Visio files, get clear on your purpose and keep in mind that you may need to rope in other resources at some point to get insight into their piece of the puzzle.

  • Decision points or approvals, missing steps

While examining decision points and steps is the last point in considering the information, it’s arguably the most important stage. Be sure to think about all players in the process and who has a say in go/no-go decisions.

If a decision maker appears repeatedly, instead of listing them in the step, you may want to add an approver lane or lanes at the bottom of the chart. You can easily connect these to a step with a line.

Consider if you’re missing any steps and check the information for clarity. The goal is for the flowchart to be as self-explanatory as possible so consider the audience.

2. Optimize colors, graphics, and shapes

If you have any graphic design tendencies, this is your time to shine! This is the step that makes the flowchart both visually appealing and easy to understand. The highest ambition for a Visio file is for its information to be intuitively comprehended.

  • Select a color palette

If you have a professional identity system in place, plan to use colors that mesh with your brand. A color palette generator can come in useful here. Coolors is a great option.

By going into the “Design” tab at the top of the page, you can click the drop-down arrow by “Variants” and hover over “Colors.” You can select a built-in theme or create your own custom theme.

  • Scrutinize graphics

Consider any logos. Are they grainy or pixelated? Do the colors clash with your palette? Snag a higher-quality image and consider if a black or white logo is more in line with the chart’s look. If you can find one, a .svg file is preferable as it’s vector-based and infinitely scalable.

If there are images that aren’t clear, visually or symbolically, you’re able to go into the “Insert” tab and select from Microsoft’s built-in icon library.

  • Edit shapes and connectors

There is an inherent language of shapes in charts. To dive into this area, we have a blog specifically on this topic. To change a shape, on the “Home” tab in the “Editing” group, select “Change Shape.” You can also right-click on the shape to select the “Change Shape” icon.

Do your best to make shapes that stand out on the page. By and large, on a neutral background (white, grey, black), implement shapes that have a solid fill, not an outline.

My favorite trick to deliver a custom look is to use shapes with rounded corners instead of the standard Visio sharp corners.

To do this, select the shape or shapes you’d like to edit and right-click to select the “Format the shape” option. Make sure that Solid Line is selected and you set the color to the same as the color of the shape. In the Cap type option, select Round and set your rounding size. For shapes on an 8.5 x 11 standard sheet, I like to set mine to 0.1 in. for rectangles and 0.05 in. for diamonds.

  • Consider other graphic elements

Each Visio file has a Background tab in italics at the bottom of the screen. By selecting this sheet, you’re able to edit locked design elements that aren’t available to you on your chart’s main layer.

Think of this like a letterhead template in Word, except instead of a header and footer, this is the whole page. Whatever design elements appear on this page will appear on every sheet in your Visio file.

Consider the background and elements on the page. Are there any lines that don’t serve a purpose? Is something unimportant drawing attention away from a more important element?

Work to create balance and again, strive for an intuitive visual experience. Each visual cue should serve a clear purpose.


3. Look at the typography and wording

  • Perform a spellcheck

When you repurpose Visio files, they should already be set up to display an automatic spell check, underlining in red the words that are in question. Go through and resolve all issues.

  • Proofread the content

We really want to check for clarity here. We don’t want there to be lingering questions. For instance, if the chart is for new employees to reference, avoid acronyms or inside lingo.

If you choose to include it, I recommend adding a key or a link to make it easy to figure out what you’re referring to.

Don’t rely on spellcheck to catch everything. Check for simple errors like using “to” instead of “so” and make sure you’re using the right form of “there” and “your.”

  • Check on your type

Choose typefaces that are sans-serif as they are easier for the eyes to read. Go through the text, eliminating “fancy” text in favor of a simple, straightforward typeface.

Use bold lettering where appropriate to make important items or titles stand out. Italics are useful to provide emphasis and voice. Underlining should generally be reserved for cases where there is a hyperlink involved.


Some things to keep in mind while working in Visio:

  • Keyboard shortcuts

If you have a mouse with a center wheel on top, to zoom: press and hold the Ctrl key as you roll the wheel up or down. The page will zoom in and out, focusing on the spot your mouse is hovering.

  • Selecting multiple items

To save time, you can mass-edit shapes. Press and hold the Shift key as you click to select your shapes. This press, hold, click technique works on shapes, lines, text boxes, etc. This is especially useful when you want to edit the text type, size, or color.

  • Where there’s a will, there’s a way

If you encounter an issue while attempting to repurpose Visio files, it’s likely that you’re not the first one. For workarounds, general tutorials, and other help, visit Microsoft’s Visio support website or Google the issue to crowdsource a solution.

In Conclusion

Visio is a beautiful and horrible tool all in one. I love it and I hate it. In the right hands, with proper guidance, gorgeous, crystal-clear processes may be mapped that streamline tasks and help everyone know their role and responsibilities in the system.

Taste is something that is tricky to teach, but when bold shapes are combined with a restrained color palette, it’s safe to say that you’ll come out the other side with a product that is clear and easy to use.

The unspoken goal when you repurpose Visio files is that someone wants to print out the chart on heavy cardstock to frame up at their desk!

Advisicon offers a variety of useful flowcharts. Visit now to check them out!