Block Diagrams in Visio

Block diagrams are used throughout industry and in the fields of engineering, management science, criminal justice, economics, and the physical sciences.  They are often used as a simple means of graphically analysing a system to make the process clear, but they’re versatile as well.

There are accepted principles for drawing block diagrams; they should describe the system and its component subsystems in a set of related diagrams in which each block performs a particular function and the block diagrams show how they are connected together.

Using Block Diagrams

Using Block Diagrams in Visio

Visio has a range of block diagrams that are easy to produce but still able to communicate a huge range of concepts in a visual format.  For example, they can show the flow within processes in a clear and concise way that allows non-technical people to understand them.  In addition, block diagrams can help to illustrate the structure of and relationships between all sorts of elements, for example:

  • ideas
  • designs
  • business procedures
  • manufacturing components
  • bottlenecks within processes

and a variety of other problems.

Using the Block Diagrams Stencil

Microsoft Visio enables the creation of a wide range of drawings, from simple diagrams using basic shapes to more visually appealing diagrams using 3-D shapes with perspective that could be used in presentations. The Block Diagrams stencil includes shapes that allow for the production of more sophisticated drawings, like hierarchical trees or onion diagrams, but it is worth noting that the Block Diagram templates have been moved to the General category in Visio 2007.

Block Diagram Templates

Visio Block Diagrams templates are popular because people in different industries can use them by utilizing common techniques like dragging and dropping to connect shapes together.  The shapes are simple and the stencils don’t contain any special menus or toolbars, so even novice users can build block diagrams that satisfy many different requirements.

Block Diagram shapes can be easily edited by dragging selection handles, and they are easy to annotate by simply typing in a shape – it is easy to enter Text mode by selecting the shape and pressing F2.

Choosing the Right Template

For program flow charts, information system flow charts, circuit diagrams and communications networks, specific stencils and templates are usually used.  Other than these examples, the range of diagrams that can be created with Block Diagram templates fall into three diagram categories:

  • Block diagrams communicate steps in a process and use geometric shapes such as rectangles and circles, but these can be replaced with shapes that represent a department or piece of equipment.
  • Tree diagrams present information displayed in a hierarchy, for example a family tree or a league table.
  • Onion diagrams describe the relationships of layers that build from a core, for example the layers that make up the earth from its core to the crust.

It is less frustrating for the user if the correct type of template is chosen at the start, although this needs some care as the diagram types Visio offers don’t relate directly to the templates on offer.

Block Diagram Shapes

Every Block Diagrams template sets up the same basic environment, so you can use Block Diagram templates almost interchangeably. Each stencil within the Block Diagrams family offers some specialized shapes to address specific diagramming needs. By understanding the shapes available on each stencil, you can open the stencils as you need them, regardless of the Block Diagram template you start with.

Basic Shapes

The Basic Shapes stencil in Visio is often used to supplement the shapes contained in the Block Diagrams stencils, as it includes basic geometric shapes, arrow-like shapes that can act as connectors, as well as the standard Dynamic connector and Line curve connector.  These, together with the other stencils available make it easy and quick to produce highly effective Block Diagrams in Microsoft Visio.

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