Category Archives: Visio

Visio drawings 2, playing around

I don’t know about you, but when making some drawings I can get a bit bored.  At least when I’m making the same type of drawing over and over again.  So let’s look at what you can do to increase your skills, make pretty things, and not be bored.

When I’m looking at somebody elses drawing I’m often unimpressed.  Mostly for the reasons I went over in this post.  While I like making pretty drawings I sometimes get bored with making the same look every time.  Every now and then I like to spice it up a bit.  Especially if I’m only presenting things to coworkers and not management.   In these cases it’s hard to get in trouble for doing something kind of fun and goofy, so I like to get a bit out there when I can.

The best way I’ve found to spice it up a bit is to find a neat template and play with it.  Visio Guy ( has made some great stuff and publishes them on his website.  Here’s an example of what I did with a wire-frame style “Battle Zone” template (linky).

I had to take over a project because somebody left the company.  They did good work and the design was solid and consistent with how things work in the company, he just wasn’t able to stay and complete the project due to circumstances outside his control.  There wasn’t a whole lot for me to do, but I had to familiarize myself with the project and design, so I decided to do the drawing again.  Obviously I’m not going to publish sensitive information, so names and IP’s have been redacted.

Here’s the old one:


Not a bad drawing.  It gets the point across and was easy enough to follow, but I felt I could do it better…

new version


Doesn’t that look cool?  Granted, it’s the sort of thing that might get a manager to look at you kind of funny, but all the design had already been presented to change control and management, so this was just to make sure that the design was firm in my head.  This still follows some of my adopted keys to design: rounded corners, bold colors, lines don’t cross when they don’t have to.

To get this done I did have to go away from the template a bit, but I think aesthetically I made it work.


Visio drawings

There’s a tendency for us engineers to make our diagrams and drawings how they look in our heads.  The problem is, when I look at my diagrams I see everything that’s there plus some stuff I keep in my head.  I also tend to ignore the aesthetics of the drawing because I’m more interested in the actual solution that I’m trying to depict rather than the picture as a whole.

Drawings that we make for ourselves can be a mess.  They’re only going to be looked at by us so it doesn’t really matter.  More often than not those drawings that we start to make for ourselves quickly turn into our working documentation for a project.  Now we’ve got a totally different beast.  Now we’ve got something that needs to be presented to change boards or managers for approval.  We’ve got a document that other engineers, both present and future, will refer to in order to figure out why we did something.

Too often I get to these meetings or go to review some artifact document and things are a mess.  There are several things that I think make drawings a mess, so here are some that I think are easy to avoid and will make your life easier when you’re trying to convey the concept behind the drawing to non-engineers.


1)  If you can avoid lines crossing over each other, do so.  I think this is my biggest pet peeve.  Yes, you will have to take more time.  Yes, you will have to “correct” the connector lines.  They might even have to go to different connection points.  You may even have to move things around to avoid crossing lines.  Here’s a fun way to practice:


2) Don’t try to fit too much into one drawing.  It sounds simple, but man I see way too many drawings that try to include EVERYTHING.  Do a different page for each OSI layer.  It will make your life easier and will make it much more simple to explain to non-engineering types.  If you feel you must put everything one drawing set different elements to different layers.


3) Round corners.  I don’t think people fully appreciate how much better shapes look with rounded corners.


4) Before you are finished with the document set a background.  Even if it’s plain white it will make your presentation more clean.  Connection lines will be much easier to follow without the grid pattern in the back.


5) Fill your shapes and use contrasting text colors.  One of the best tips I saw (I think it was on was to set your fill color in your shapes to a strong color, change the lines on the outside to a shade of grey, and make the text inside white.  It’s a simple thing, it takes but a second and people will compliment your drawings in meetings.


Here is an example of what not to do:

ugly visio


Things cross…everything looks the same, and the background is the default grid.  This is what you get if you just draw shapes and use the connector tool.  While this has become the norm I find it lazy and it won’t really impress anybody in a meeting.  Remember, the ones in the meetings that care about how things look often are the ones in charge of your paycheck, so let’s try to impress them, shall we?

much better visio

So in this example we still have lines crossing over, but that’s unavoidable with the topology.  I thickened the lines so they don’t look so dainty, including the borders on the shapes.  We changed the fill colors of the shapes, rounded the corners, changed the text to white, bolded the font, and changed the crossing connectors to “straight lines”.  Much better looking.

So there are the first few tips.  I’m sure I’ll have more.  Hopefully they help.