Office For Mac

Kurt’s Power Tip #6: All about shapes

Shapes is one of the more underutilized features in Office for Mac 2011, and in this week’s Power Tip I will show you why it should be used more often.

In presentations and documents (and in spreadsheets, but to a lesser extent), quality graphics can often convey a wealth of information in a minimal amount of space. A well-done graphic can also really impress the reader, and a poorly designed or poorly executed graphic can, at best, confuse the reader or, at worst, lower their opinion of the author.

While Office for Mac is not designed primarily as a graphics authoring environment, Office does include graphical tools like SmartArt, picture formatting, and Shapes that can make the creation of well-executed graphics easy, even for those who are artistically-challenged, like me.

“Shapes” is the term applied to the set of features in Office involved with the creation and formatting of geometric objects like circles, triangles, lines, arrows, and other simple shapes. (There are 172 such simple shapes in Office.) PowerPoint, Word, and Excel all have Shapes functionality, although Shapes are probably most widely used in PowerPoint, so that is where I will create all the figures and movies for this blog posting. Shapes enable you to create graphics like these four samples:

and to some extent, you can consider SmartArt to be sets of shapes together with dynamic behavior that enables the shapes to change their structure to fit a set of ideas the author is trying to convey. SmartArt is “shapes with intelligence” that enables you to easily create graphics like these:

(The Tabbed Arc and the Word Snake SmartArt layouts can be downloaded from and added to Office for Mac 2011.)

In this short movie, you can see one way to add a new shape to a presentation – via the Shapes menu – and see how easy it is to format the new shape:

and in this short movie, you can see another way to add a new shape – via the Media Palette: (Both movies also give you an impression of the wide variety of shapes that are easily available in Office.)

Sets of shaped can be more than just a loose collection of geometric primitives. Shapes have connectors that maintain their relationships, even when the shapes are moved or scaled, as you can see in this movie:

Since the graphical connectivity of connectors is preserved, the task of later modifying the position or size of the shapes, without disturbing the overall structure of the complete graphic is much easier.

I hope this background on Shapes helps you create great-looking graphics you want to add to your presentations, documents, and spreadsheets.

New week I will tell you about an undocumented feature of Shapes which will give you the ability to create an even wider set of shapes.

-Kurt Schmucker, Office for Mac Evangelist

April 22nd, 2011
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  1. Sue says:

    Thanks for the overview on shapes. While I have drawn a few shapes before, I have never seen the connector feature. It looks like something that I can use a LOT. Can I specify the connection point(s) on a shape? Where can I learn more about using connectors?

  2. BillDv says:

    You mentioned that new Smart Art designs can be added to Powerpoint. How do I do that? Can I create my own designs from scratch?

    BTW, I really enjoy these tips. Keep ‘em coming!

  3. Kurt Schmucker says:

    @Sue: There doesn’t seem to be a PowerPoint Help topic or tutorial on connectors, so let me try to fill in the gap.

    All PowerPoint shapes (except connectors themselves) have pre-defined connection points. You cannot change these connection points or add new ones.
    To see where the connector points are, just start drawing a connector. A connector is any of the lines or arrows in the “Lines and Connectors” section from the Media Palette or the Insert Shapes menu, except these three: Curve, Freeform, or Scribble. While you are drawing a connector and when your cursor is over another shape, the connection points in that shape will show up as little red squares. (You can see this in the Connectors movie in the main part of this blog post.) Move your cursor near one of these connection points, and it will “snap to” the connection point.

    Draw a connector between two connector points, and it will exhibit all the desirable properties shown in the movie: the connectors remain connected even when you move, resize, or format either of the two connected shapes. Using connectors can save you a lot of time if you later need to rearrange the shapes in a drawing, so if you do this often, I can see why you might use connectors a LOT.

    When you right-click on a connector, you will see menu items to change the connector type to a straight connector, an elbow connector, or a curved connector.

    Hope this helps,


  4. Kurt Schmucker says:

    @BillDv: It is easy to add new SmartArt layouts to PowerPoint for Mac 2011.

    SmartArt layouts are defined by .glox files. If you have downloaded (or created, see below) a .glox file, you need to place it in the following location for it to be available in Office for Mac 2011:

    /Users//Library/Application Support/Microsoft/Office/SmartArt Graphics

    Then launch (or re-launch) PowerPoint and the new SmartArt layout(s) can be found the “Other” menu in the “Insert SmartArt Graphic” area of the SmartArt tab on the ribbon. (This new SmartArt layout will also be available in Word and Excel.) The new layout will be at the bottom of the Other drop-down in the section labeled “Other”. You use this new layout just like you would any other SmartArt layout.

    Don’t worry if you use this new SmartArt layout in a presentation (or spreadsheet or document) and then send it to someone else. When you insert a SmartArt layout into your presentation, all the information from the .glox file is embedded in your presentation, so this new SmartArt layout will show up just fine, be editable, copy-able, etc. by the person who receives your file. They just won’t see the thumbnail of the new SmartArt layout in the ribbon.

    In addition to the Loki3 site I mentioned in the main body of the blog post, .glox files can be downloaded from the templates area on

    Creating your own new SmartArt layout “from scratch” is another matter, however.

    To define a new SmartArt layout requires some level of programming skill. If you are comfortable writing an AppleScript or a Visual Basic script for one of the Office for Mac applications, you probably have enough skill to also create a new SmartArt layout and produce your own .glox file. You will have to learn some XML and also read about the structure of a .glox file. You can learn these concepts by reading publicly available documentation on the Microsoft Developer Network website, Just search on SmartArt and GLOX.

    Here is a good introductory article to get you started:
    Create Custom SmartArt Graphics For Use In The 2007 Office System

    Hope this helps,


  5. smith says:

    Re: Connectors. This seems to only work in PowerPoint (as you state). Why not when drawing “connecting” shapes in Word? I first tried it there and thought I was doing something wrong…then realized perhaps it only works in PowerPoint.

  6. smith says:

    You may want to add that if you download SmartArt files they must be added to “/Users/username/Library/Application Support/Microsoft/Office/SmartArt Graphics” to be used in Office2011

  7. Kurt Schmucker says:

    @smith: You are correct: connectors do not work in Word. However, connectors do work in both PowerPoint and Excel. Sorry for not pointing this out.

    Also, about adding additional SmartArt layouts: your question and my answer to BillDv crossed “in the ether”, as they say. Please see my reply to BillDv for even more info about adding additional SmartArt layouts to Office for Mac 2011.


  8. Goh says:

    Thanks a lot for your tutorial!
    I’m using MAC office and couldn’t find any tutuorial to install template online!
    Thanks again!