When should I use a SmartArt graphic and when should I use a chart?

A SmartArt graphic is a visual representation of information and ideas, and a chart is a visual illustration of numeric values or data. Basically, SmartArt graphics are designed for text and charts are designed for numbers.

Use the information below to decide when to use a SmartArt graphic and when to use a chart.

Use a SmartArt graphic if you want to do any of the following:

  • Create an organization chart.
  • Show hierarchy, such as a decision tree.
  • Illustrate steps or stages in a process or workflow.
  • Show the flow of a process, procedure, or other event.
  • List information.
  • Show cyclical or repetitive information.
  • Show a relationship between parts, such as overlapping concepts.
  • Create a matrix illustration.
  • Show proportional or hierarchical information in a pyramid illustration.
  • Create an illustration quickly by typing or pasting your text and having it automatically positioned and arranged for you.

To create a SmartArt graphic, see Create a SmartArt graphic. For help with deciding which SmartArt graphic layout to use, see Choose a SmartArt graphic.

Use a chart if you want to do any of the following:

  • Create a bar chart or column chart.
  • Create a line or XY scatter (data point) chart.
  • Create a stock chart, used to graph various stock prices.
  • Create a surface, donut, bubble, or radar chart.
  • Link to live data in a Microsoft Excel workbook.
  • Update your chart automatically when numbers in a Microsoft Excel workbook are updated.
  • Use "what-if" calculations, and you want to be able to change numbers and see the changes automatically and immediately reflected in the chart.
  • Automatically add legends or gridlines that are based on your data.
  • Use chart-specific functionality, such as error bars or data labels.

To create a chart in Excel, see Create a chart from start to finish. To add a chart to your Word document, see Add a chart to your document. For help with deciding which type of chart to use, see Available chart types.

Applies to:
Excel 2010, PowerPoint 2010, Word 2010