Much better lists with Office SmartArt

SmartArt is available in all Office desktop programs for Windows and Mac. They let you turn a plain boring text list into something more compelling and understandable. SmartArt works and options do vary between the programs, especially PowerPoint.

Office for Mac menus look a little different but the primary features are there.

This article is the the start of a look at the SmartArt features in Microsoft Office. For this starter article, we’ll look at how to convert a list into something more interesting.

Let’s start with a simple bullet list in PowerPoint. With a few mouse clicks, a boring list can be changed into something more eye catching.

In this piece we’ll show how to change the list into the SmartArt graphic at the bottom using just the easier options in Office.

PowerPoint has a ‘list to SmartArt’ feature that’s not available in the other programs (Why? One of those Microsoft Mysteries®).  It’s on the Home tab, Paragraph group.

Select the list then hover your mouse over the Convert to SmartArt options.  Live Preview will show how the list will look.

SmartArt has become pretty clever at converting bullet or numbered lists into graphics.  Here’s just some of the SmartArt conversions from the above list:

Word and Excel do not have a ‘List to SmartArt’ option (we’ll show how to workaround that). Instead, there’s a side-box which has the list.

Edit the list on left to change the SmartArt items.

Text Formatting

The ‘Type your text here’ box has more power than it seems.  Many text formatting options can be applied in the list box for ‘one-off’ changes to the look.

While the list itself doesn’t change formatting, as you can see, the SmartArt version of the text does change. Formatting changes can be done from the pop-up toolbar or the Home tab buttons.


Each SmartArt option has variations called Styles. You’ll find them on the SmartArt Tools | Design tab.

Some of the styles are subtle changes, others a bit more obvious by changing the boxes to 3D buttons while a few are quite extreme.

Live Preview is available to help select the Style you need.

Color changes

A dead giveaway of SmartArt is the color scheme. The default blue shows up way too often.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Go to SmartArt Tools | Design | Change Colors to see some variations.  Most apply the same color throughout but the ‘Colorful’ options give you different colors for each section.

Adding pictures to SmartArt