Category: How To

Eating My Own Dog food

Why it took me ten years to use my own product to draw a flowchart

I wrote the first version of SmartDraw in 1994 and I’ve been the sole author, or one of the small team of authors, on every version since. Yet I only began to use my own product to help me think through designs by drawing flowcharts since 2007. Why? There were three obstacles to overcome, but first let me explain why I use flowcharts at all.

How I use flowcharts in software design

If I have to design a solution to a reasonably complex problem, I use a flowchart to help me think through all of the cases my code is going to have to deal with. For example, when I designed the multiple page feature of SmartDraw Cloud, I had to think through how the usual mechanism for loading and saving a one page document would be modified to handle a document with multiple “one-page” documents stored in it: How navigating between pages would work, when changes had been made to the page (or not) and so on.

Creating a flowchart of the steps and cases helps me understand the issues before I start coding and this is the main reason I use it, but it also creates documentation that can be used later to understand what the code I wrote is trying to do (often by me).  You can look at my flowchart by clicking on the preview below.


This is the real one I did at the time. No cosmetic or grammatical clean up has been applied. [We try for authenticity here at SmartDraw].

However this only works if I can create the flowchart at the speed of thought. If I have to futz around trying to get my ideas into a diagram, it slows me down and it’s not worth the effort.  This brings us back to the three obstacles that I had to overcome to make this workable.

Obstacle 1: Drawing Flowcharts is a Pain!

Before 2007 drawing a flowchart with SmartDraw was pretty much the same process as drawing one with MacDraw, Visio or any of the other programs used to draw diagrams: You drag shapes onto the page and join them up with lines. Rearranging the shapes and the flow as your mental model evolved was tedious and slow. Trying to use a diagram to help you think made it harder not easier.

What changed this was SmartDraw’s introduction of automatic formatting. With automatic formatting I could drag shapes around to new locations, add new ones and delete them and SmartDraw did all the work of reformatting the flowchart. I could finally draw and think at the same speed.

Obstacle 2: Flowcharts are incomprehensible.

Flowcharts are often literally a joke. Take a look at this one:


The culprit is this innocent looking symbol:


The decision symbol is a diamond and is used to direct the flow from a decision in perpendicular directions. This is how flowcharts quickly end up as spaghetti messes. Imagine if you wrote text this way: I’m reading the instruction and then suddenly I have to turn the page on its side!

The way to fix this and make your flowcharts useful to you and your audience is to:

  1. draw them from left to right like you do when you write text, and
  2. use a fork in the road to indicate a decision


A fork in the road (or a split path) lets you see results of the decision, without looking in perpendicular directions. Later decisions make additional forks.


This is much more readable, so why is the perpendicular flow of the traditional decision symbol so popular? Because of obstacle number three.

Obstacle 3: The tyranny of the printed page.

The reason why flowcharts use perpendicular flow is so that they will more easily fit on a printed page. Flowcharts date from 1921 when they were used to document processes. They were drawn by hand onto a piece of paper using a stencil.

We are way beyond this now. (Although I think it’s telling that Visio still calls its shape libraries “stencils”). There is no need to print my design flowcharts. Ever! This gives me the freedom to draw them for readability and clarity without worrying how they will fit onto a page.

Until recently, when I wanted to share my diagram with my co-authors, I’d store it in a common location and send them a link. They’d view in it in SmartDraw.  Now I use SmartDraw Cloud and just send them a link.

In 2016 there is no need to even consider sacrificing clarity to make your diagram easy to print. Just don’t print them! Share them.

Flowcharts can help you think and communicate

Once you can draw as fast as you can think, and you can create easy to follow flowcharts by abandoning the decision symbol, flowcharts can be a great tool for helping you design algorithms. Sharing them with a link also makes them an effective vehicle for communicating with your co-workers.


How to Present Your Data More Effectively

Purchased ImageThe data you collect in your business is only as valuable as its analysis and presentation. Without the latter, problems cannot be solved. Opportunities cannot be capitalized. Decisions cannot be made. Data presented to audiences can be a mine field. So, as the leader, be mindful of how you present your data and findings for your audience (or team) with the use of charts and visuals.

The key is to present the data in palpable ways. And nothing accomplishes this more effectively than the use of visuals. Properly constructed charts, and other visuals, certainly provide insight. But you already know this. However, what if I told you that presenting data through visuals is only the beginning?

Look, pouring over data in a spreadsheet is an arduous task. One simply cannot detect through the data alone whether or not the business is improving, souring or remains stagnant. But through the use of visuals, you are now able to determine trends, opportunities and make a slew of strategic planning and other business decisions.

However, simply presenting various charts, graphs and other diagrams to illustrate your data may also gloss over key learnings that may be important to you and your business. What I mean is – don’t throw the entire kitchen at them (or chart). Reveal it sequentially so that the entire message is understood.

Let’s look at this as if you are to give a presentation later this week. Essentially, you are presenting to the entire company how the business performed, and in particular, the sales results for the end of the fiscal year.

You could simply project your spreadsheet of the numbers onto the screen and verbally disclose your learnings to the audience. But a spreadsheet of all the sales transactions (similar to the one below) would be far too overwhelming and detailed. Looking at the numbers, one cannot determine if sales are up? Flat? Sideways? It’s far too granular.

Spreadsheets versus Charts

So if we know the audience finds it difficult to make the connection from what you say and what you are showing, you could throw your data into a chart (like the one below) and present it to them. The chart is now able to illustrate the sales numbers at a higher level to essentially show the accumulation of sales growing over time this past fiscal year.

sales chart - no sequencing

However, charts presented all at once don’t fully realize the potential impact of your message with your audience. Why? Because the audience may not see or comprehend some key data points that you learned from your analysis and find important for them to understand.

In this example, you want the audience to not only see the overall sales numbers over time for this past fiscal year, but to also understand how the various versions of the product performed. To do this with your chart, reveal the data sequentially. Now your presentation presents all of the data in a step-by-step format easily digested, and thoroughly explained by your audience.

For example, your presentation may go a little something like this:

…and now to show you how our sales performed for the past year. First, coming into the year we supported two product versions: the 2014 and 2015 versions. As you can see from this first data set within our chart, the sales for the 2014 version waned as the year progressed.”

sales chart - sequencing and data labels (red only)

Our 2015 version at first glance shows flat growth. But if you look closely at our chart, you will see a large uptick in sales in Q4.”

sales chart - sequencing and data labels (blue and red)

And of course, we debuted our latest version earlier this year. However, as good as the latest version sold right out of the gate, the sales of our 2015 version outperformed it in Q4. And by a staggering margin.”

sales chart - sequencing and data labels (all series)

Because of these Q4 numbers, we are proceeding with further product and customer analysis to learn more about the customer satisfaction within these versions. In particular the 2015 version for further opportunities.”

As you can see, using charts and other visuals as well as sequentially revealing the data creates a more compelling presentation for your audience. And the audience now understands the data originated from your spreadsheets. A presentation home run!

Landscape Design Basics: 3 Steps for First Time Homeowners

After living in our first home for two years, my boyfriend and I have finally gotten our backyard prepped and ready for landscaping.  We have spent the last two years resloping the entire backyard which was initially sloping towards the house causing water damage to our wood floors inside. At last, we are to a point where we are ready to have sod laid. We are looking forward to looking out to our backyard and seeing green rather than dead boring brown dirt.  I have created a series of diagrams that we plan use to build the backyard of our dreams.

STEP #1: Create a Diagram of Your Current Landscape Design

Before Landscape Design

SmartDraw Tip: You’ll notice that the side of the house has dirt in a unique shape. In SmartDraw you can only “fill” a closed off object with a color. To fill the backyard and side of the house brown I used a combination of shapes. 

SideyardI created the shape of the side yard by using two rectangles.  A wider rectangle at the bottom and a thinner rectangle at the top right.  In order for the shapes to appear “seamless”, I made sure to not only “fill” them with the same color, but I also changed the line color to be the same color as the fill.  As you can see in the below picture there is a gold glow around the perimeter of the rectangle placed on the top right, showing that they are two separate shapes:

Border Glow

But as soon as I deselect the rectangle, they look seamless, as if they were a single object.  Refer to diagram below.

Seamless Border

STEP #2: Determine the Gas Line, Sprinklers, and Drip System Design

We have had quite some time to think about what our ideal backyard would be. Initially, we wanted it all . . . a pool, a spa, a fire pit, and the list goes on.  But of course, we needed to take in to account not only the financial implications, but our space restrictions.  Could we fit a pool, spa, and fire pit? Yes, but would we have room for anything else?  So, we downsized our initial plans and decided to go with the fire pit with a gazebo.

With a variety of fire pits to choose from: portable, built-in, wood burning, or gas, we decided to go with a built in gas fire pit with glass rocks. In turn, we would need to determine the location of our gas lines, sprinklers, and drip system before any of the landscaping can begin.  I used the current backyard landscape design diagram to display where the gas line, sprinklers and drip system will need to go.

Sprinkler & Gas Line Drawing

SmartDraw Tip: I used the Layers feature to create the sprinkler layout. The Layers feature allows me to create the design elements in a single layer.  They can be that is to be display or viewed when needed.   To create a layer navigate to the Page Ribbon’s Layers drop-down menu.  Select New Layer.


When you select this option a small dialog box will appear that allows you to name your layer and apply properties.  Click OK.

Add New Layer

Note: The term “Visible” means that regardless of which layer you are on you will be able to see any objects placed on that layer.  The term “Clickable” means that regardless of which layer you are on, you will be able to select and move any objects placed on that layer.  You can change the properties of the layers at any time. In fact, I continuously toggle them on and off depending on what I want to display or do with my diagram.  You can toggle the properties of the layer on and off by right clicking the tab associated with that layer that appears at the bottom of your work area.  You can see below my two layers for my landscape visual (Gas, Sprinklers and Drip & Landscape Design):

Layer Tab

STEP #3: Finalize Your Dream Backyard Landscape Design

After the gas line, sprinklers and drip system are all in place, it will be time to pour cement. Once the cement is poured we are going to have some stone work done. We are choosing to do this prior to laying the sod because there will be a lot of traffic coming in and out of the yard. Once the flag stone is set, we can start in on the rest of the yard.

After Landscape Design

SmartDraw Tip: In addition to the wide variety of color options, SmartDraw also provides you with the option to fill objects with “texture”. The textures range from grass and wood grain to fabric and stone.


SmartDraw Tip: You can also import your own custom images if you cannot find the correct texture or symbol already existing in SmartDraw.  I did this with the flag stone used in my final landscape design.  First, save the image to your computer. In the Insert Ribbon, select Picture.   You can then browse your machine for the image you want to insert.  Once the image has been inserted into the work area you can then resize it. 

Insert Picture

SmartDraw Tip: You can save an imported image into your Symbol Library. To do this, drag and drop the symbol into the library. The SmartDraw dialogue box appears.  Click OK. In the Edit Symbol dialog box (see below) enter the appropriate value in the Symbol Name field. Change settings as you see fit. Click OK.  That newly saved symbol will now live at the bottom of your Symbol Library.

Edit Symbol

Where We Are Today

That’s where our landscape design ends for now. I’m sure we will be continuously adding, rearranging and upgrading.  We have learned that owning a home is expensive, time consuming, yet very rewarding.

To learn more about landscape designs, read a few of our other blog posts Save Water with These 5 Landscape Planning Tips,  Cut Through Landscape Planning Red Tape with SmartDraw, and Can a Good Landscape Design Increase Home Value?

How to Enhance Your Bathroom Lighting lighting slowly eases you from sleep to awake, allows you to complete your daily grooming rituals, and can comfort you as you unwind after a long day.  But bathroom lighting can be neglected, and a poorly lit bathroom can be a dim way to start your day.  In this week’s post, I’ll share with you what we learned about lighting during our two most recent home renovation projects.   Keep in mind that this information can be applied to lighting in any room in your home.

If you’d like to learn about our renovation projects you can read, “3 ‘Must Have’s’ for Planning Your Bathroom Renovation” and “12 Remodeling Tips for Your Master Bath Retreat.”



Know the size of the space.

It’s important to provide the appropriate amount of light for the size of the room.  We actually found several formulas online as to how to determine the amount of lights in a room.  In addition, we relied on the experience of our contractors to help guide us in some of the final decision making when it came to the placement and amount of lighting for the space.

room lighting6

SmartDraw Tip: To automatically calculate the area of a room, first select the room.  Navigate to the Design Ribbon, select Dimensions.  In the Show Dimensions dialogue box, navigate to the Area Display section.  You have the following three options: The Area of the Shape, The Width and Height of the Shape, or None.  Click OK.  


Keep in mind where your natural light comes from.

Take note of where the windows are located and how much light is let in.  Pay attention to large plants or trees that may partially block the sun’s natural rays.  It’s also important to consider both daytime and nighttime lighting when choosing lights.

Just outside our guest bath we have two large palm trees.  Fortunately,  the morning sunlight has no problem brightening up the room.  On the other hand, our master bath receives afternoon light.  In comparison, our master bath has more lighting than the guest bath to compensate for the amount of light and the size of the room.

Customize lighting to your unique preferences.

Whether I’m stumbling to use the restroom in the middle of the night or getting up early for my morning workout, I’ve always dreaded turning on the lights in the bathroom after going from a room of complete darkness. In the dark, our eyes dilate to take in as much light as possible in order to see.  Depending on whether we’ve close our blackout shades in our master bedroom, the amount of time it takes for my eyes to adjust varies.

eyes_light conditions

SmartDraw Tip: There are a number of Template Categories available in SmartDraw.  They can easily be accessed from the Category Screen when you first open SmartDraw.  This particular diagram was built upon an existing sample diagram found in the Healthcare Category.  To save time, I simply entered the search criteria of “eye” in the Search field and pressed the Enter key.  Using the Previous and Next navigation arrows, I scrolled through the sample diagrams until I discovered the appropriate diagram.  

In order to customize the sample diagram, I selected the eye then navigated to the Design Ribbon.  In the Design Ribbon’s Group drop-down menu, I selected Ungroup Objects.  The keyboard shortcut is Shift+Ctrl+G.   With the object ungrouped I was able to manipulate the diagram to meet my needs.  


Our solution was to customize the lighting as well as the lighting controls in our master bathroom.  I may be a morning person but that doesn’t mean I don’t need time to adjust and get oriented.  With that in mind, we designed the light switches in ascending order from the doorway.  When I get up, I just reach for the first light switch located closest to the door.


SmartDraw Tip: You can easily apply effects, such as a shadow,  to any object within a diagram.  First, select the object you wish to modify.  In the Home Ribbon, select the Effects control.  Then, navigate to the type of effect you wish to apply to the object.  In this case, I selected Shadow which then displayed a sub-menu from which to select the appropriate option.  



Multiple light sources balances a room by minimizing shadows and glare, while adding dimension and depth.  We used light layering to maximize the appearance and functionality of the space.  Here are the floor plan diagrams that enabled us to easily explain to our contractors: where we’d like the lighting to be installed as well as how it should be wired to the light switch panel.

all lights

SmartDraw Tip:  You my notice that the light in the diagram is transparent.  To achieve this, select the object you wish to make transparent.  In the Home Ribbon, select the Fill control.  Navigate to the Transparency bar in the Fill drop-down menu.  Select the appropriate percentage.  Repeat the process until you achieve your desired level of transparency.

fill menu

Task Lighting

Task lighting adds brightness to areas of the room where daily tasks are performed.  It prevents eyestrain and enhances clarity to tasks such as shaving and applying make-up.  Effective task lighting should be free of glare and shadows.  Through the use of the vanity lighting and the combined night light and light provided by the ventilation fan we were able to achieve proper task lighting.

task lights1

SmartDraw Tip:  Arrows not only provide direction they also function as labels.  To prevent the arrows from snapping into place, lock the object(s) in the diagram or create them in a different layer.  I chose to lock objects.  First, select the object or objects you with to lock.  Then, right + click to display the menu.  In the menu, select Lock Object.  (Note: In order to unlock an object, simply right + click on the object. In the menu, select Lock Object.  The object you originally selected will no longer be locked).  

In the Home Ribbon, select Line.  In the Line drop-down menu, select Line.  Draw the line in the Work Area.  Navigate to the Home Ribbon’s Shape Style group and select Line.  In the Line drop-down menu you will have the option to select the type of arrowhead(s).  In addition, you may also choose to modify the thickness of the arrow.  Select the appropriate options.  


Ambient Lighting  

Ambient, or general, lighting provides an area with overall illumination. We incorporated ambient lighting by installing recessed lights.  They provide a comfortable level of brightness without glare.

One term you’ll hear when shopping for your recessed lighting is “trim.” Trim refers to the visible part of the light and should reflect your individual style.  First, we selected the size.  Trims range from 3″ to 6″ in diameter.  The size of the trim is personal preference; however, larger sized trims are able to produce broader amount of light.  Smaller trims are less conspicuous and are considered to be a more modern contemporary look.  We decided to install (1) 6″ and (2) 4″ lensed trims since they are designed to protect the bulb and the interior of the housing from moisture or taking direct hits of water.


Accent Lighting

Accent, or directional, lighting is used to highlight certain objects or features.  It’s not meant as a focal point but rather to work without being seen.  Our accent lighting was provided by the vanity lights installed directly above each mirrored medicine cabinet.


12 Remodeling Tips for Your Master Bath Retreat

Shortly after we completed our guest bath renovation project, our garage became a storage facility for 5 types of tiles, 2 colors of grout, door trim, baseboards, spare dry wall, and an assortment of gallon paint cans and paint brushes.   As those of you who’ve done DIY home improvement projects, it’s a best practice to err on the side of caution and order more than you’ll need.  For example, we ordered the recommended 10% extra of tile which was to cover the waste from cutting tiles and the occasional breakage.

With supplies readily available, we were anxious to design our master bath retreat.  What was originally a project to tackle in 2 years, soon became a project to start in 4 months.  In this week’s post, I’ll share with you the actual SmartDraw diagrams used from the brainstorming, planning, to execution stages of the remodel project.  To get started we used the same approach we did with our guest bathroom.  The steps we took can be found in a previous post, “3 ‘Must Have’s’ for Planning Your Bathroom Renovation.”



original master bath3

SmartDraw Tip: In order to have SmartDraw automatically calculate the area of an object, you must first select the object.  Navigate to the Design Ribbon’s Dimensions control.  In the Show Dimensions dialogue box, navigate to the Area Display section.  Click the radio button next to The Area of the Shape option.  Click OK.  The results will appear in the center of the object you originally selected.


We looked at the space and knew it was underutilized.  For inspiration, we turned to a number of resources: websites, home improvement television shows, and showrooms specializing in bathrooms and kitchens.  We gathered samples, researched the maintenance and care of different types of materials, read tons of reviews, and conducted price comparisons.  As a newly married couple, we were all about doubling the function of the space so we selected Option B.  We doubled the sinks, shower heads, towel racks, vanity lighting, mirrored cabinets, and storage.

original master bath5

SmartDraw Tip:  The Symbol Libraries automatically default to a library that is relevant to the template you have selected.  To create the above diagram, select Floor Plans – Residential in the Left Panel of the Category Screen.  Then, navigate to Bathrooms.  In the Template Preview, select from Room Outlines, Standard Room Outlines, or Custom Floor Plan.  Simply click and drag symbols from the Library into the Work Area.   


To off-set some of the cost, we negotiated with our contractors to allow us to take ownership of some of the tasks.  We were responsible for painting the room, painting the door, installation of the door, base boards, trim, towel bars, hook, and toilet paper roll holder.  Our offer to work side by side with our contractors proved to be invaluable.  The crew began to coach us, giving us pointers and advice on other DIY projects that we were tackling.  At one point, they not only helped my husband update our electrical wiring in our garage, they helped us install dry wall throughout the garage.  We “paid” them with pizza, beer, and some Filipino food on several occasions.


Once we reviewed the potential floor plan options with our lead contractor, we switched gears and relied heavily on the use of elevation diagrams.  This allowed us to re-image the space as well as communicate what we had envisioned to our contractors with accuracy.

Elevation diagrams

SmartDraw Tip: To locate the Bathroom Elevation Template navigate to the Floor Plans – Residential category, select Bathrooms.  Use the scroll bar to navigate to the Bathroom Elevations Template Preview area, select the Blank Bathroom Elevation Template or one of the samples diagrams provided.


When discussing the details of the design, I noticed our contractors refer to measurements in inches, not feet.  At the tile showroom, the salesperson referred to 12″ by 24″ tiles opposed to 1′ by 2′ tiles.  So, I converted the elevations diagrams into inches for consistency.


SmartDraw Tip: To modify the scale of a diagram, navigate to the Page Ribbon.  In the Scale drop-down menu, select Custom.  The Set Rulers And Grids dialogue box appears.  In the Scale section, enter the appropriate values.  Click OK.  


Before “demo day” was scheduled, we were required to have all of the materials purchased and on-site.  Although we had done our research and placed orders on-time, there were unexpected delays that were beyond our control.  We took advantage of the delayed start date by using this time to move from our master bedroom into the guest room.   This is where we would live for the duration of the project.


One of the things I noticed early on in the project, was that our lead contractor used the diagrams as instructions for the crew.  He would tape up the diagrams that were relevant to that particular day’s tasks.  By including the exact measurements and placement of elements in the room, we were able to communicate our expectations effectively and efficiently.


SmartDraw Tip:  Although there is an extensive Symbol Library, there are occasions in which you may not find the exact symbol you need.  Know that you have the option of creating your own.  In this case, the Library did not have a symbol for an adjustable handheld shower head.  In the diagram above, I simply combined a black door handle and a light fixture turned vertically.  To create the actual symbol, I placed the two symbols in the appropriate position by using the rotation control.  Then I navigated to the Design Ribbon and selected Group Objects (Ctrl + G).


I stand at a whopping 4’11,” while my husband is 5’9″.  We could have easily tailored the master bath’s features to meet our height requirements.  However, we would risk the appeal to potential buyers or future tenants.  We made  the following design decisions to not only meet our current needs but for resale value as well:

  • The vanity mirrored cabinets included adjustable glass shelving and were installed at an average height.  To meet my needs, I simply adjusted the shelves according to my height.
  • The doors of the cabinets open in opposite directions so our site lines of one another are not obstructed when we’re getting ready.
  • The adjustable handheld shower head was installed with it’s lowest point at a comfortable height that I could reach but the highest point for an average height person.
  • The two shower benches have been designed to comfortably accommodate my height, while still being useful for an average height person.
  • The rain shower head and massage handheld shower head are two day spa elements that we were on our “must have’s” list.


Several design decisions were made in an effort to lessen the amount of maintenance:

  • We chose not to have a shower door.  Benefit: Less glass to clean.
  • We had 12″ x 24″ shower tiles installed, opposed to smaller tiles. Benefit: Less grout to clean.
  • The vanity has two undermount sinks.  Benefit: Counter tops can easily be wiped down. Debris can be swept into the sink.
  • Accent tiles were installed higher than the height of the shower head wall mount.  Benefit: Accents tiles in the shower area have little to no contact with water, which requires minimal cleaning.
  • The width of the shower, places the two niches beyond the direct spray of the two shower heads.  Benefit:  Niches have little contact with water, which requires an occasional wipe down.



You’ll note that the pony wall, or half wall, is completed by a glass wall that doesn’t reach the ceiling.  This design decision was to accommodate for the amount of steam generated by the shower.


SmartDraw Tip:  By design, SmartDraw is set to use what is referred to as Snaps to ensure diagrams have clean lines. When creating a diagram, you may want to either position or rotate an object in a particular way in that the system does not allow.  To bypass the default setting, select the object you wish to rotate.  Navigate to the Page Ribbon, deselect the check box next to Use Snaps.  When you rotate the object, you’ll notice that it rotates smoothly. Once you have rotated the object, it is a best practice to repeat the steps to return to the default settings.  


The two angled benches are intentional in design.  Not only are they appealing to the eye and add interest to the space, they also provide more surface area of the floor.  Thus, preventing the individual in the shower from stubbing their toe.


Buying items in bulk can be a great way to save money.   As proud warehouse shoppers, we designed the “His & Her” niches to accommodate two 40 oz sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner.   Our contractors were impressed by some of the details we incorporated into the master bath, this was definitely one of them.  The depth and width of the niches were also designed to store other items, keeping the benches and floor clear.


SmartDraw Tip: Labeling photographs or elements of a diagram can prove to be a challenge.  In order for text to standout, the background needs some contrast.  Transparency was used to create the label in the above photo.  In the Home Ribbon, select a shape from the Shape drop-down menu.  Drag it into the Work Area.  In the Ribbon’s Fill drop-down menu select the appropriate color, in this case, White.  Navigate to the Fill drop-down menu again, then select the appropriate value in the Transparency bar.  By changing the percent of transparency the label can still display the background while provide sufficient contrast for the text to be easily read.


Having “His & Her” electrical outlets installed were a must for the design of the master bath.  My husband and I have our individual electrical tooth brushes as well as other items that routinely require charging.  We placed the outlets to the right and left of the two cabinets for several reasons: (1) they are not openly visible, (2) they do not interfere with the overall appearance of the vanity especially the accent tiles, and (3) they can be easily accessed when needed.

In addition to the vanity’s two electrical outlets, we also included one to the lower right hand side of the toilet.  We could use it for our free standing towel warmer or if we, or any future owners of the home, wish to upgrade the toilet to a bidet.

As a precautionary measure, we had bullnose trim that was made of the same materials as our floor tile installed behind the vanity.  This design choice would help protect the walls from potential water damage from the vanity or shower area.


SmartDraw Tip:  You’ll note that the light fixtures, cabinets, and faucets are in perfect alignment.  The His & Her electrical outlets align perfectly with the bottom of the cabinets.  You can easily achieve this by first selecting the objects, with the last object you select as the “target.”  Navigate to the Design Ribbon’s Align control and select the appropriate option.


We absolutely love our new master bath retreat.  Increasing our shower area to more than 3x’s the original size was one of the best design decisions we made.   In addition to the time spent in the structural design of the master bath, we also invested time in lighting design.  Read more in How to Enhance Your Bathroom Lighting.  The information can be applied to any room in your home.

We hope these remodeling tips will help you get started in designing the master bath retreat of your dreams.


Celebrating Our Superheroes in the Classroom – Our Teachers

As the Treasurer of both my elementary and middle school’s student governments, I played an active role in the Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA).  Since I was the only student in the PTSA, it was my job to represent the student body.   One of the events that I looked forward to each year was Teacher Appreciation Week.   It is a week-long celebration in the United States that is observed during the first full week in May.  So, when I was asked to help design a door for my niece’s teacher I was thrilled at the opportunity to participate.  The school’s PTA sent home a newsletter  in the form of a comic book page to introduce the theme and share the schedule of activities planned for each day of the week.  The theme was “Superheroes.”

herodoor photo herodoor photo3


Just like any project, we needed a plan.  A plan, in this case, was the door design.  Once the design was selected, we would be able to get started on gathering supplies and creating the superhero characters.  Since my nieces’ teacher was a minion fan, we were able to narrow down the designs to the following four options.

Mock Up Designs

SmartDraw Tip:  Drawing to scale doesn’t necessarily have to be exclusively used on floor plan or landscape designs.  Since the final design was going to be installed on a classroom door, I drew it to scale.  I chose not display the dimensions on the diagram above as it would be distracting.


It was important to involve my niece and her classmates in the design of the door.  In previous years, we incorporated head shots of the students into the design.  This particular year, I wanted to do something a little different.  So, I created this handout.  With the assistance of the classroom parent volunteers, the students were able to add character to their individual Hero in Training Minions by following these instructions:

handout instructions

Time Saving Tips When Designing Classroom Handouts

  • Full color handouts saves students time in coloring
  • Limit the amount of detail to be cut by hand
  • Use easy to understand instructions
  • Provide examples to guide the students

my minion handout1

SmartDraw Tip:  Determining the size of the minion in the handout was based on a calculation of the (surface area of the door) minus (the area of the door design) divided by (the total number of students) = size of the minion. 

The Making of a Hero in Training Minion 

making a minion

SmartDraw Tip:  Using SmartDraw doesn’t necessarily require artistic or drawing skills.  It does, however, help to have a little imagination.  By simply dragging and dropping a combination of shapes from the Home Ribbon’s Shape control, I was able to create our Hero in Training Minion.   


Communicating visually is key to saving time.  Rather than crafting a long email, I simply added notes to the existing door design.  Using the Email Quick Access Control, I was able to send the diagram directly from SmartDraw.

Email Final Door Details

SmartDraw Tip:  Navigate to the top left hand corner of the screen to the Quick Access Control Bar.  This bar contains a series of controls: Undo, Redo, New, Save, Email, Print, PDF, Word, PowerPoint, and Excel.  Select the Email Control.  An Outlook email will be prompted.  SmartDraw will automatically (a) enter the name of the file into the Subject Line, (b) automatically attach the source file to the email, and (c) the diagram will appear in the body of the email.

The Making of Our Teacher’s Superhero Shield

Superman with a C1

SmartDraw Tip:  [Step 1] To draw your own superhero shield, navigate to the Home Ribbon.  In the Line drop-down menu select Polygon Line and draw the shield.  Then, I layered several black C’s of various sizes to create the illusion of a border around a red “C.”  I grouped the letters and the shield using Ctrl+G.  [Step 2] In order to see the message, I needed to make the shield transparent.  This was achieved by making a white colored shape transparent.  Select the white colored shape.  Navigate to the Home Ribbon’s Fill drop-down menu, select the appropriate percentage in the Transparency bar.  [Step 3] Type the message to which you’d like to add a shadow.  Select the text, use Ctrl+D to duplicate the text.  Change the color of the shadow text to black, then place the text on top of the other.  When they are aligned use Ctrl+G to group the text.

Can a Good Landscape Design Increase Home Value?

According to landscape economist, John A. Harris, good landscaping can add up to 28% to the overall value of a home and it can cut the home’s time on the market 10% to 15%.  In addition, if you take your landscaping to the next level, upgrading it from a “good” to “excellent,” in terms of design, condition and placement, you can add 6% to 7% to the value of a home, according to a Clemson University study that was funded by the Horticulture Research Institute.

Whether you’re planning on enhancing your curb appeal, creating an outdoor living space, seeking the approval of your homeowners association (HOA), or are simply wanting to put your ideas down on paper, SmartDraw has what you need to get started.

Landscape Design Category

The Landscape Design Category contains a number of sub-categories that range from residential to commercial landscaping templates and sample diagrams.  Depending on the type of landscape project, you can easily begin by leveraging an existing template or a blank work area or import existing blue prints of your property.

Landscape Design Category’s Sub-Category List*

  • Residential
  • Office Building
  • Deck Plans
  • Patios
  • Parks
  • Picnic Areas
  • Pools
  • Yard

*Note: Each sub-category contains a folder of templates and sample diagrams.


SmartDraw Tip:  In the Left Panel of the Category Screen, select Landscape Design.  The Landscape Design Template sub-categories will appear in the body of the screen, known as the Category Preview.  You have option to leverage an existing template or select the “Blank” template, highlighted by the blue box in the diagram above.

Landscape Symbol Libraries

When you select any of the Landscape Design sub-categories, the Symbol Library defaults to a library that is relevant to the category you have selected.  If you require a symbol that does not already exist in the library displayed, you can access more than 24,000 symbols in the Symbol Library using the Add Symbols feature (as shown below).

landscape library

SmartDraw Tip:  To access the Symbol Library, navigate to the Library tab located to the right of the SmartPanel.  Select the Add Symbols drop-down arrow, select More.  Enter the appropriate criteria in the Search field. Click Search.  Once you’ve located the appropriate set of symbols, click OK.  The Symbol Library will display in the Library to the left of the Work Area and the More Symbols window will close.

Residential Front Yard Landscape Diagram

front yard

SmartDraw Tip:  Before you begin your design, it is a best practice to determine the functionality of the space.  This will aide in determining the design elements that are to be included.  Keep in mind that the labels assigned to each of the symbols found in the Symbol Library may not be intuitive to your audience.  With that said, you will see that each species of plant is labeled accordingly.  

Adding Texture

The more detail you include in your landscape design, the better sense you will have in ensuring the cohesiveness of the space.  With SmartDraw, you can go beyond a simple drawing you can enhance your designs with texture.


SmartDraw Tip:  To add texture to your landscape design, select the object you wish to add texture.  Navigate to the Home Ribbon, select Fill.  In the Fill menu, select Texture then More Textures.  The Select a Texture window appears (as shown above).   Navigate to the appropriate texture, click OK.  The texture will be added to the object that was selected and the Select a Texture window will close.

Residential Backyard Landscape Diagram


SmartDraw Tip: When designing your landscape diagram, it is important to determine your audience.  This will guide you to the level of detail you will need to include.  

Making Objects Transparent

By making large design elements, such as trees, transparent you are able to reveal smaller elements below.  For example, have an extra large magnolia tree (as shown above) that has been made transparent in order to display the greenery below.


SmartDraw Tip:  Before an object can be made transparent it must first have a color applied to it.  Select the object you wish to make transparent.  Navigate to the Home Ribbon, select Fill.   Located below the Standard Colors bar you will find the Transparency menu.  Select the appropriate level of transparency. 

Residential Landscape Diagram and Plant List

In addition to the landscape design diagram, we have included a plant list table.  Not only does this table function as a key to all the greenery it also indicates the greenery botanical names, common name, quantity, and size.  This level of detail would be relevant when determining your budget, placing your nursery order, and collaborating with a professional landscaper.


Displaying Dimensions

The landscape design (as shown above) does not display the dimensions of the space.  Since the focus of the landscape diagram is to identify the elements of the design, it would be distracting to include them.  However, including dimensions may prove valuable especially when calculating costs and placing final orders.


SmartDraw Tip: Select the object you wish to display the dimensions.  Navigate to the Design Ribbon, select Dimensions.  In the Show Dimensions section, you will discover that you have three options.   Select “Never to never display the dimension of the object even if you select it.  Select “Only When Selected” if you wish to display the dimensions only when you select the object while in the Work Area.   Select “Always” to display the dimensions of the object at all times.  

Trace Your Family History Back Through Time

Shortly after our one year wedding anniversary, we found ourselves preparing for my husband’s grandfather’s 96th birthday.  It would be the first time, since our wedding day, that we would see many of our out-of-town relatives.  In a way, it was like a mini-reunion.  I wanted to do something special.   Instead of buying him a present, I wanted to make one.  I wanted to make our family tree.  After several weeks of correspondence with relatives near and far, I had managed to gather enough information.  Once I had the information, creating the family tree took almost no time at all.

I’ll never forget Grandpa Russel’s reaction.  Grandpa was so excited.  He immediately requested his magnifying glass and sat there in awe.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I had made the first graphical representation of the family’s history.  I realized in that moment that this wasn’t just a gift from grandpa, it was a gift for the whole family.  Everyone loved it.


SmartDraw Tip: After creating the family tree, I used the Smart Panel Format controls to format the branches so that they would fit around the graphic I had chosen as my background.  Then, I used the Fill feature to assign a color to each generation.  

Through this experience, I discovered a number of ways to document one’s family history from family trees to genograms to ecomaps.  In this week’s post, we’ll take a closer look at a handful of sample diagrams that just might inspire you to explore your own family history.

Family Tree Diagram: Without Photos

A family tree diagram represents family relationships in a conventional tree structure.  The absence of photos allows for more information to be documented.  This is an important factor when the final format is to be printed.

Murphy fam tree3

SmartDraw Tip:  As a default, SmartDraw has the Use Compact Formatting feature selected.  This feature is an automatic setting that helps maintain the real estate of your work area as your diagram develops.  You may choose to be even more conservative with the space and want to make your diagram even more compact.  To achieve this, simply use the Vertical Spacing and Horizontal Spacing controls.

Family Tree Diagram: With Photos

If the family tree diagram is meant to be displayed and shared online, then conserving space is not an issue.  With that in mind, adding photos brings life to the family tree diagram and can prove to be educational when new members join the family.

Murphy fam tree7

SmartDraw Tip: As a best practice, you may choose to first create the family without photos.  This will give you an idea of the size of the tree.  To add a photo of a family member, select the family member’s shape.  Navigate to the SmartPanel’s Add Shapes section and select Add Picture.  The Insert Picture dialogue box appears.  Locate the photo and select Open.   To modify the photo’s appearance, simply double-click on the photo. You can zoom in and out as well as adjust the placement of the picture.

Genogram Diagram: Status

Genograms are used by various groups of people in a variety of fields such as medicine, psychology, social work, geneaology, genetic research and education.  This particular genogram indicates the marital status, living status, as well as miscarriages of the family.

genogram_murphy fam2

SmartDraw Tip: Located to the right of the SmartPanel, is Library Tab.  This is where the Genogram Symbol Library is located.  You have the ability to leverage the existing symbol library to create any number of genograms based on your preference of complexity.

Genogram Diagram: Medical Conditions

Genograms go beyond a traditional family tree.  They allow physicians  to analyze hereditary patterns.  A genogram diagram documents relationships and traits that may otherwise be missed on a pedigree chart.


SmartDraw Tip: This is an example of a genogram focused on a single trait.  When using a combination of symbols that may not be intuitive to your audience, it’s important to include a legend.

Ecomap Diagram: Family Counseling

Ecomap diagrams allow a therapist and their patient to quickly identify and understand various patterns in the client’s family history.  Ecomaps are used to portray Systems Theory that the therapist and client can look at during the session.  At the heart of the ecomap is the client (i.e. family or individual).  They are in the circle located at the center.  Family connections to all of the relevant systems, that play a role in the clients life, are shown as well.   They are either connected to the individual or to the entire circle by a particular type of line.


SmartDraw Tip: When using a combination of lines that may not be intuitive to your audience, it’s important to include a legend.  In this case, there is also a brief overview of what the ecomap is depicting in the bottom right corner.