Using SmartArt to Visualize Information

SmartArt is a time-saving graphic tool, built into PowerPoint, Word and Excel. If you have never used SmartArt or if it’s been awhile since you explored it, you may want to take another look. With a few formatting changes to the plain vanilla SmartArt, you can quickly visualize your ideas with charts, diagrams, process maps and more. Tips for what type of graphic to choose are available right in the tool:

Using SmartArt in PowerPoint

SmartArt can be added on a slide from the Insert menu, or you can convert existing text to SmartArt. Here is an example of converting existing bulleted text to a nice visual design:

1. Right-click on some text
2. Select Convert to SmartArt

3. In the sub-gallery, hover the cursor over SmartArt to preview the graphics. Select a SmartArt graphic or click More SmartArt Graphics located at the bottom of the gallery to open the SmartArt dialog box.

4. In this example I chose the Picture Strips diagram

Some of the SmartArt designs include placeholders for photos or graphics. In this example, double-click on one of the placeholder boxes to add a photo.

SmartArt Design Toolbar

Use the SmartArt toolbar to make design changes to your graphic. Make sure you have your SmartArt selected (select the entire graphic, not just an element within the graphic):
Add or move shapes and text.  If you need to add a shape or re-order your shapes, use the tools in the Create Graphic section of the ribbon. Using the text pane is an easy way to edit your text.

Change the layout. If you want to change the graphic to something else, just click the drop down arrow to view more layouts.

Change colors. If you are using an Extension template, it will include Extension’s color palette.

Change styles. If you want to change the default style, click the down arrow in the SmartArt Styles section of the ribbon to view all of the available styles for your layout.

SmartArt can be cheesy and over-done so use your best judgement and don't go crazy, especially with the 3D styles and non-Extension colors. It's a quick way to transform your wordy slides into visuals. Here is the before/after of my example:



More Examples:






Have you used SmartArt to improve the design of your slides or help communicate your message? Do you have examples to share? We always enjoy your comments and questions.


  1. Thanks so much for the encouragement to try this, AND the great examples of how you've made the slides "pop" ! ~Deb/UMN Extension - Carver County

    1. Thanks Deb! Because I am not great with design, I find SmartArt nice for giving me ideas about formatting plain bullets into something better -- and it's so easy!

  2. So many options - it's great to have that reminder to see all that we can do now. I especially like the timeline and agenda examples and can see using these a lot in the future. Thanks once again, Karen.