Getting started July 1, 2019

Walkthrough: Understanding the Visual Grid

Tags: Grunt Long-form PowerPoint Rules Efficiency Quality Presentations Slides

Video information:

Learn the essentials to master the Visual Grid in Grunt. This video teaches you:

  • size & layout
  • inserting, deleting, resizing and moving columns & rows
  • working with embedded or external data
  • formatting with modifiers + more


  • 00:21 What is a Visual Grid?
  • 01:00 Size and position of the Grunt
  • 02:18 The problem with native tables
  • 02:48 Sizing columns or rows in Grunt
  • 04:03 Re-arranging columns / rows
  • 04:30 Why grouping shapes together is bad
  • 04:49 Change the number of rows or columns
  • 05:19 Understanding the content of your Visual Grid
  • 06:09 External data from Excel
  • 07:09 Data embedded in PowerPoint
  • 08:51 Introduction to modifiers
  • 13:40 Editing previous modifiers

Getting started: the Visual Grid

To get started, you'll insert a Grunt onto your slide. There are many Grunt object types to choose from, such as charts and Visual grids. In this video, we'll demonstrate the visual grid. If you want to follow along, you can do so by downloading the presentation I'm using. There's a link to it next to this video.

So what is a Visual Grid? I have one here, that is pre-populated with content. The Visual Grid is the main workhorse in Grunt. It looks simple, but it is incredibly versatile – it can be almost anything you want. It can be a simple text layout, or it can hold a combination of charts, text and visual shapes in a single object. The Visual Grid enables you to achieve great designs and visualizations, and it is the underlying technology driving many of the Grunt designs we showcase. We often call the Visual Grid a Grunt – for simplicity – unless we need to be specific.


You can see that the Grunt has a custom user interface when it is selected. Most of your interaction with Grunt will happen directly in the slide with this user interface. You can choose to scale up your Grunt by dragging the handles surrounding it. If you hold the SHIFT key on your keyboard, the Grunt will keep its ratio while scaling. If you hold the CTRL key on your keyboard, it will scale from both sides at the same time.

You can also move your Grunt around with both your mouse and keyboard. If you click and drag on the edges of your Grunt, you can move it around. Snap guides will appear to make it easy to line up your Grunt with other objects. However, you can hold the ALT key on your keyboard to disable snapping. If you hold the SHIFT key on your keyboard, the Grunt will move in a straight line either horizontally or vertically. This is great if you want it to be locked in one dimension. With the Grunt selected you can also use the arrow keys on your keyboard to move your Grunt around on the slide with high precision. For a more in-depth guide on size and position, we'll link to a dedicated video on layout.

Regardless of which method you use to scale and position your objects, Grunt will do its best to respect the size and position you chose. This is different from what you might be familiar with when working with native tools. If you have a native table and change the size of one of the edge columns, the entire table will end up in a different size. If you change the size of an internal column, the width of the table won't be affected, but you can quickly end up with a table that becomes much taller than intended.

In Grunt, you can still change the sizes of your columns and rows, but you'll have much more control when doing so. Let's demonstrate on this Visual Grid. I'll show you how to work with the columns, but the rows work in exactly the same way. When you change the size of a column, you instruct Grunt to give that column more weight. This will affect the other columns in the grid. You can also specify that columns should be of a fixed size, which means that their size is independent of other columns. When you resize other columns, your fixed columns will stay the same size. A special type of fixed size is "Fit to Content". In this mode, Grunt will calculate the column width that is just wide enough to display the widest content in that column. Note that this is a dynamic setting. If you later change the content in the column, the size of the column will update accordingly. With the three sizing modes Grunt provides, you'll be able to control your content much better than with standard PowerPoint.

The Visual Grid also makes it easy to re-arrange columns or rows. You simply select a column or row, and then you'll click and drag to move it. You can also move multiple columns at once. Select more than one column while holding the CTRL key on your keyboard, then click on one of the selected columns and start to drag. It's easy to forget how hard this used to be, but with Grunt making changes like this seems like a triviality.

Since standard tables in PowerPoint don't always behave the way you want them to, many professionals instead insert lots of shapes and line them up manually. With some intelligent grouping, you can make this quite convenient, but it is always a burden when you want to change the number of rows or columns you have in your structure. The Visual Grid makes this much more straightforward. You're always free to change your structure, and Grunt will ensure that everything still lines up as you expect. To insert a column, right-click and choose "Insert column."

Deleting columns is just as simple. Select the columns you want to delete, right-click and select "Delete column(s)" from the context menu. Notice that content in the Visual Grid automatically re-aligns as I change the structure.

Where is my data and how do I change it?

Now that we have talked about the layout, lets take a closer look at the content of the visual grid. Content can be either text, numbers or one of many available visualizations in Grunt – like icons or charts.

But when all the visualizations are removed, all we're left with is the underlying data, like text, numbers, dates and other primitive data types. To understand how Grunt works I'll just say a few words about how Grunt deals with basic data.

What is special about Grunt is that it keeps your data and your design separate. When you have made the presentation the way you want it to look – and you get updated data – pushing the new data into the presentation will only take seconds. And the best part is that you don't have to do all the formatting all over again.

You can get the data for your Visual grid either from an external data source such as Excel – or it can be typed in directly in PowerPoint.

To get started with data from Excel jump over to your Excel workbook 1) select the range you want to import 2) copy it and 3) paste it directly into your slide. When you paste your data, a custom user interface allows you to decide where your object is placed. When you've decided, the data will appear as a Grunt, which is automatically linked to the Excel workbook. Whenever you save the Excel file, Grunt will automatically check if your data has been changed. If you have new data, Grunt will remind you to update it. Once you do, your design will update too, reflecting the new data and according the rules that you've defined.

Often though, you don't have an external datafile, but want to enter your data directly into PowerPoint. In this case Grunt is incredibly easy to use. Simply press the "Insert Visual Grid"-button in the top left corner of the Grunt-tab, and choose how many rows and columns your grid will have. Note that this is just for convenience – you can always add or delete rows and columns later.

We'll start with a 4x4 grid in this case. The Grunt gets inserted into your slide, and you're ready to input content. To enter some text, I'll select a cell, press "e" for edit on my keyboard, and I can start to type in the input field that appears. This input field works just like standard text boxes in PowerPoint. If I want a line break, I press "Enter" on my keyboard. When I'm done typing, I click outside of the input field to commit the text.

Another way to edit your data is to right-click and select "edit data." A data editor will open containing all your data – something that looks and feels almost like Excel. When you are making lots of changes to your data it is easier to do it here than in each single cell on the slide. If your data is linked to Excel, you can still edit it in this editor, but we recommend that you'll instead update your data in Excel and let Grunt pick it up automatically. There are more details you should know when working with data from external data sources, so we recommend watching our dedicated video tutorial on external data to learn more.

Smart formatting with modifiers

Now you know how to get your data into the Visual Grid. It's time to talk about formatting. Grunt has a fantastic workflow when it comes to formatting and inserting visualizations – and it's super easy to make designs that support your communication. It is a bit different than what you're used to though, so pay close attention. If you select a cell and want to change the font color, you'd typically head over to the "Home" tab and look for the font-color control. In Grunt you'll rather use something called modifiers to change the look and feel of your content. Modifiers are formatting rules that can either be simple – such as changing the font color – or super advanced such as transforming your numbers into different kinds of visualizations. You'll quickly be acquainted with modifiers, as it is something you'll use all the time when working with Grunt.

So, if I'm going to change the font color of this cell, with the cell selected, I right-click and choose "Add modifier." The shortcut key for this is CTRL + Enter (and you should probably memorize that immediately since it is so significant). A dialog box will appear that contains all the modifiers available in the current context.

There are lots of them, and you can scroll through this list to get a better feeling for what is there, or you can look at our support site to see an overview of all the available modifiers and their capabilities. We're looking for the "Font-modifier" – also known as character style – since this can change the style of individual characters. Double-click the modifier in the list to apply it, and a dialog appears with all the settings available for this modifier. Notice that the modifier is added to the stack at the right side of your screen. This is where you can change it later.

To edit the color setting, right-click on this mode selector next to the setting and choose "Manual" from the list. A standard color selector appears where you can select your desired color. Let's pick a red color for now.

The text in the selected area now turned red. I can also specify the modifier further. Let's say I just want the first part of each cell to be color red. I can tell Grunt to only target the first paragraph by adding this criteria in the included list. You'll instantly see the changes, and the power of modifiers start to become apparent. The cool thing is that we've told Grunt our intent – that the first paragraph should be red – rather than just formatting individual cells statically. This means that as I type more text into one of these cells, Grunt is able to ensure that my formatting stays consistent, and I can spend my energy on more important tasks.

Let me show you a completely different modifier. Let's say I want to insert Harvey balls into this column to indicate the status of these items. Using standard tools, I'd have to drag in the different symbols and distribute them manually. With Grunt, I simply add a modifier, and Grunt will handle this for me. To get started, I select the cells where I want the Harvey Balls to appear, right-click and choose "Add modifier." I can then locate "Harvey balls" in the list. If it is hard to find a modifier, you can also type a part of the name directly into the search field to filter the list. When I find the modifier, I double-click to apply it to my selection. You can see that Harvey balls automatically appear inside the cells and that they already display the correct value. That is because Grunt generates the Harvey balls from the data in the cells. If we look closer at this cell right here, where the Harvey ball filled three-quarters of the way, and I temporarily disable the modifier, you'll see that the data in the cell is the number 3. The modifier maps the value 3 to a three/quarter filled Harvey ball, and Grunt draws the visualization for you. You can change this default mapping if you'd like, but it works fine for me as it is here. Another thing worth mentioning is that Grunt has dealt with the alignment and scaling of the Harvey balls for me. I didn't need to do anything to make this look nice. It took me just a few seconds to insert the Harvey balls, compared to dragging in the Harvey balls one-by-one like you'd be forced to do with standard tools. Moreover, Grunt is already hard at work keeping the visualization up to date, so if my data changes, the Harvey balls will update automatically – without me having to think about it.

I'll jump back to the finalized Visual Grid I showed you earlier, and you'll see another advantage of modifiers. They are dynamic, meaning that you can edit them, re-arrange them or disable them later on to change the output. All the modifiers you apply to a Grunt is added to this stack to the right when you add them. If you click one of the modifiers, the dialog with all the settings will re-appear. I can, for instance, change the type of this chart if I want another look. Alternatively, I can disable the modifier entirely and get back to the underlying data that drives the Visual Grid. Each of these modifiers in the stack modifies a separate part of the design. If I disable all of them, all I'm left with is the data. Keeping the modifiers around ensures that my design is always easy to change. This will speed up a lot of the work you often need to do. Offloading work to Grunt also improves the quality of your output, since Grunt is known to pay great attention to details. There is a lot more to learn about modifiers, so we recommend that you check out some of our other tutorials to get more profound knowledge.

We have now covered the critical building blocks required to understand the visual grid. The visual grid respects the size and position you give it. You can easily change the size and structure of the columns and the rows. Content in the Visual Grid comes from primitive data that can either be picked up from Excel or be embedded inside of PowerPoint. Last but not least, you can do all kinds of formatting of your Visual Grid with powerful modifiers. Hopefully, this gave you enough insight to start to use Visual Grids in Grunt – and if you're eager to learn more, there are plenty of videos going in-depth on different topics. Good luck, and be smart: Let Grunt to the grunt work for you!