A brief detour from data: AutoConnect

I thought I'd start off the New Year with a little break from the data features in Visio 12, and talk about one of the other areas we've been working on in the product as well. We are spending a lot of time on data, but are doing plenty of other features too! One of the things I hear from customers is that, while Visio allows them to draw things that they wouldn't have been able to create before, it's still a bit more complicated to use than it needs to be. Even something as basic as how you construct a diagram in Visio has quite a few steps. For example, let's look at how you would draw this flowchart in Visio:

To create this flowchart, you have to follow the same set of steps that you do with many of the different drawing types in Visio. You need to add the shapes to the diagram, arrange the shapes so that they are aligned and spaced correctly, and then you need to connect the different shapes together. Today in Visio, these are all three different operations. You drag and drop the shapes to add them to the diagram, then you would either eyeball the alignment or use any of the many alignment tools in Visio (such as "Align Shapes" in the Shapes menu). Finally you would switch to the connector tool and add the connectors. Quite a bit of work to get a basic diagram created, and the number of steps can be confusing for people starting out in Visio. The connector tool in particular is something that takes a while to figure out. Some people don't use it and end up just drawing lines instead of connectors between shapes. This looks fine until you decide to move shapes around, and then the lines don't follow the shapes!

In Visio 12, we took a look at the process of constructing a diagram and tried to figure out how it could be simplified. How can you create shapes, line them up, and connect them all at once? This resulted in a new feature we are calling AutoConnect. It's really a new way to draw in Visio and one of the things I'm most excited about in our new version.

How does AutoConnect work? When you are creating a drawing, you drag the first shape out like normal.  But when you drag the second shape out, you can drop it on one of the blue arrows that appears when you hover over the first shape:

Dropping the second shape on one of these arrows does the following: it adds the shape to the diagram, aligns and spaces it correctly, and connects it to the first shape. In one action you have accomplished the three steps needed to successfully add a shape to the diagram! This already makes things faster, but we also built a few other variations into AutoConnect to speed things up even more. First, once you have a shape selected in your shapes window, instead of dragging and dropping you can just click on the blue arrows to add a shape to the page:

Finally, imagine that you already have two shapes that are already on the page next to each other and want to connect them. Even if you used AutoConnect to add the shapes originally, you might have a loop in your process that requires you to add an additional connector to the page. If two shapes are next to each other, when you click on one of the blue AutoConnect arrows, we will connect them together:

Using AutoConnect can simplify the process of creating diagrams in Visio. Think of it as another tool in your arsenal for creating diagrams (though I find I tend to use it almost all of the time now). You can still use any other technique that worked for you before, either alone or in conjunction with AutoConnect. We're not doing anything to force you into using this model. Another thing I wanted to point out was that it's not just for flowcharts. Almost any type of diagram that involves connected shapes in Visio can be created using AutoConnect. For example, you could create a network diagram using the same technique.

We've worked on a number of features including AutoConnect that make the basics of creating and formatting diagrams faster and easier with Visio 12. I'll talk about a few more of them in later posts (as well as getting back to some more cool data features).