Do you find that you tend to have a lot of items on your screen and it is a pain trying to move them around in a way that they are synchronized with each other? How many times have you had to move one item, then another to line it up, and then another, etc. only to later add an element to the screen and have to move everything again?
You have several options:
- You can select each element individually each time – colossal waste of time – especially if your design has a lot of elements.
- You can perform a drag-select movement, in which you click on the screen and drag around all the elements you want to select. This can be inefficient because you sometimes will select unexpected items and then have to deselect them or you may not grab everything you thought you were grabbing. Then, you have to hold SHIFT and try to add the missing elements or press CTRL to remove unwanted elements. It is even more complex when items are on multiple layers.
- You can group the elements and click once to select all the items and move them together.
Without grouping your screen items, the selection process can be a true pain and time waster if you are designing screens.
This is where grouping comes in.
WHAT IS GROUPING?
Grouping is a common action across many programs. Essentially it is the ability to select several items on a screen, combine them into one element, and then if you need to select them, format them, move them, or what-have-you, you grab the element and all the grouped items within the element move together. You are making several objects act as a single object.
I assumed this was a standard PowerPoint or graphic design skill. I recently learned that it is not, so I decided to write a little about this useful feature.
HOW I USED GROUPING TO SOLVE A DESIGN CHALLENGE
For a course I was creating, I made the design decision to design some graphics from scratch in a flat design style, similar to what you see in an infographic. I designed them on a blank screen, which allowed me to easily grab them as one unit, copy them, and paste the items onto the slide and move them to where I wanted them. It was really painless.
However, something occurred that I did not anticipate… I was not the only one working on these slides.
Our SME decided to add an activity at the end that was a scenario based activity and she wanted to have an introductory slide with all my images on it and then carry them over into the activity. She was not familiar with the concept of grouping and therefore “fought” with the software for way longer than she should have in an attempt to copy the art and then move it once she pasted it.
When we discussed the challenge she was having, it was clear that she did not know about this feature, let alone how to use it.
WHAT SHOULD I GROUP?
There is not any real rule as to what you should or should not group. Obviously, you have to have more than one item to use grouping – otherwise you are simply just selecting a single item.
- Here are some situations in which I would choose to group items:
- If you have a group of shapes that make up an image or icon
- If you have a series of elements that make up an interface, such as buttons or section tabs
- Items that will get used across multiple screens – build and lay them out once and you can copy the group and simply just paste the group over and over again.
HOW TO GROUP SCREEN ITEMS
- On the screen, arrange your elements in their final places. This way, when you select and group them, you don’t have to rearrange the elements within the group later.
- When you are ready, use a selection method to select all the elements at one time. You can hold shift and click each item or drag select to capture all the items.
- Right-click on the selected items and choose Group from the right-click menu. Your selections will disappear and there will be one bounding box around all the elements. You now can work with this one selection rather than all the individual elements that make up the group.
MOVE IT! MOVE IT! – If you have a lot of items you are selecting, it may be hard to know if you have all your necessary elements. What I like to do is take advantage of the Undo feature to verify my selection. I select all the elements and when I think I have them all, I perform a large movement with the selection set – I will move it across the screen. This shows me what was actually selected. Only the correct items should move. Once I have tested this, the Undo feature will allow me to easily put the selection back where it was without me trying to re-place the selected items.
I SELECTED TOO MANY ITEMS – If you grabbed something that you don’t want to be a part of your group, if you hold down the CTRL key and click on the item, it will deselect. Be careful where you click because you could run the risk of deselecting all your elements by accident. Depending on how many items you need to select determines how big of an issue this becomes for you.
RIGHT-CLICKING IS CREATING A CHALLENGE FOR ME – If, for some reason, you have trouble right-clicking, you have another option! On the Format tab, there is a Group option available for you.
CHALLENGES WITH GROUPING
I’ve already addressed the simplest challenge – trying to select a lot of items on the screen can be difficult.
Another challenge is understanding how to edit the various items in the group. Even though you are dealing with a group as a single entity, it is still made up of various objects – each with its own set of properties.
For example, let’s say you have two buttons. If they are not grouped, they look like this. These are two separate entities that are selected. Notice that each has its own bounding box and a rotation handle. Each can be manipulated independently.
This is the same two buttons grouped as a single item. How are they different?
The second set has a single bounding box and a single rotation handle. What happens if you move the rotation handles?
What if you want to edit the buttons for some reason? Let’s say you decide that instead of Continue >>, you want the button to say “Next >>”. Can you change just one button? Of course!
This is where it gets tricky with the clicking. You have to click twice, but not really a double-click. You select the grouped object, then, you select the object within the group. Notice what you see in the image here. It has the group bounding box and the object bounding box.
Now, you can edit the object inside the group. Here we changed the text.
I have seen this be the most confusing part about groupings. All the clicking of the main grouping, and sub-objects within the group.
WHAT ELSE CAN I DO WITH A GROUP?
If you decide that blue is not the correct color for your buttons, you can select the group and make them all a shade of red with one click. To get this result, I simply selected the group and changed the shape color. This changed the color of both objects in the group.
- Color – Fill and Outline
- Shape Effects, such as drop shadows
BONUS TIP: DID YOU KNOW THERE WAS A SELECTION PANE?
Here’s your Rock Star tip of the blog. Ready? On the Format tab, there is a tool that makes object selection really easy, especially when you have a lot of objects on the screen.
In this image, you are looking at the Selection pane. It shows a group with two rectangles within it.
You can easily click the item you want to select within this pane. But, how do you know which button is Rectangle 4 and which is Rectangle 3?
You can rename these objects, just like you would do for a folder or file, in Windows. You can reorder the objects in the pane, and you can even hide or show objects on the screen, depending on what you are trying to accomplish.
As you start creating more complex screen interfaces for your eLearning or creating custom graphics, you will amaze yourself and your co-workers with your increased speed and productivity when you can remove the hassle out of the item selection process. It seems like a simple thing, but if you think about how much time you spend trying to align objects, resize objects, and simply selecting various objects on a screen, simple tricks like these will save you massive amounts of time.
WHAT’S YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE WHEN IT COMES TO SELECTING OBJECTS?
We all have that time that we wanted to punch the computer because it would not let us do what we thought we should do. It can easily devolve into a click-fest as you try to get the one item you want to work with. Tell us about that story and how these tips might have helped you.