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Graphically depicting derived fact types

Last post 05-09-2011 9:03 by Roger Cass. 6 replies.
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  • 05-08-2011 7:44

    Graphically depicting derived fact types

    When working with business and technical team members who are experts in their respective domains, I often find that I need a way to express ideas familiar to those individuals or in common use in their domains, but which are actually derived fact types, not elementary.

    I often leave these derived fact types in place (using Visio 2010 (v14)) because they are a useful tool for understanding the difference between current practice and desired future state.

    In "the book", I noted the use of a colored background for role boxes in illustrating derived rather than elementary fact types. I have taken to using a light green color to indicate derived fact types. However, the application of that color is a bit of a chore in Visio, as each role box must be individually selected and the color applied--especially tricky in objectified fact types. I have not used NORMA in a couple of years, so I do not recall if that is built in or not.

    While this offers the most flexibility to use formatting to illustrate some particular point, perhaps "derived fact type" is a common enough use case to warrant a context menu to shade the role boxes.

    Does anyone else ever use the idea of derived fact types? What other methods are in use to illustrate this idea?


    Roger Cass

  • 05-08-2011 12:03 In reply to

    Re: Graphically depicting derived fact types

    Hi Roger,

    Thanks for your perceptive post. I agree that it needs to be pretty easy, in Visio for example, to change the shading of the role boxes to some color you use a lot (e.g. to denote derivation). And I would certainly want to make it easy enough in the Visio stencil.

    However, I do want to mention that I have not found it necessary to select and modify, as you suggest, each role's fill-color separately. In Visio 10 and Visio 12 (2007) Professional, I can right-click the fact type shape, as a whole, and go to "Format" --> "Fill..." and select the fill color desired, and this color propogates to all the role boxes. So perhaps you could try that, and see if you get the same results.

    As you check that out, I'll be continuing to ponder a way to make it easier to change the fact type's fill color. But I notice that if the above does work, we'd only be saving the user one mouse-click... which is still good to do, of course, other things being equal... So let me work on that a bit and see what I find.



  • 05-08-2011 12:17 In reply to

    Re: Graphically depicting derived fact types

    P.S. I just realized that if the above suggestion works in your Visio, then adding some custom property, say -- which would require moving from the context menu to the Custom Properties menu, to select one's desired color -- would not save the user even a mouse-click, but rather, only the moving of the mouse-pointer to a sub-menu. So let me know what you find out, please, about the above suggestion; because it might be a case of, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it"...

    Best regards,


  • 05-08-2011 13:30 In reply to

    Re: Graphically depicting derived fact types

    I understand what you mean about adding a context menu for coloring role boxes being superfluous. What I meant was that if that using color (a specific color) to mean "derived" was a formal part of the model, then adding a context menu to produce that behavior in the shapes would be appropriate. If "derived" is not a formal notion (like "link fact types" in the other thread) then I agree that it should not appear in a context menu.

    You said that I should be able to use the "Fill Color" property of the shape to control shading role boxes. This behavior works inconsistently across the various role shapes. I created one of each type of role shape (and Entity for good measure), selected the shape with a single left-click, then applied a fill color. You can see my results below. In most cases, the interior lines between roles are lost. For objectified fact types, the entity shape is inconsistently filled.

    I would expect selecting a fill color would work like the "N-ary" shape, preserving all interior lines.

    The workaround is to continue to click on a single role box, drilling into the group, until just that one role box is selected, then applying a fill color to that role box. The bottom-most shape in the drawing has had the technique applied (with two colors to highlight the method).

    Interestingly, if a fill color is applied to the fact type as a whole, it must first be removed before fills applied to the individual role boxes will be seen. I am sure this is an artefact of the way the shapes are grouped (based on my understanding of Shape Sheets).

    At any rate, it is not like I fill role boxes on a regular basis anyway, but it is helpful when trying to illustrate a certain point.


  • 05-08-2011 22:45 In reply to

    Re: Graphically depicting derived fact types

    Thank you Roger, you've reminded me of this (annoying) problem that, as it turns out, is in Visio 2007 as well (and maybe 2003). Visio 10 (2002) does behave as I described, which is a very helpful feature; but that got screwed up somewhere along the way, and unfortunately it appears they've yet to fix it.

    As you've surmised, most fact type shapes are constructed with the group shape out front with no fill, and the role boxes behind, with white fill. This was chosen as the best solution to a problem with the built-in shadows. But the cost, or one of them, is that this bug in later Visio's becomes an annoyance.

    Thanks for your patience and illustrating of the problem. I will try to find a better workaround.



  • 05-09-2011 1:36 In reply to

    Re: Graphically depicting derived fact types

    Hi Roger,

    Due to your patience and persistence, I've some good news to report. I've found what the real problem was, with the behavior I was excoriating in Visio 12 and ff., and have fixed this problem in the stencil. So, you should now be able to re-color the whole fact type, or individual roles (if desired), without such anomalies as you were experiencing.

    As for adding "color as derived f.t." (or some such) to the context menu, that might be doable, but perhaps at the cost of the ability to color individual roles. And now that the above problem is fixed, it doesn't buy one much anyway, wouldn't you say? Please let me know what you think...

    Feedback such as you've given is really helpful, so again, thank you very much. I would probably not have sussed out this problem without your request (but necessity is the mother of invention:-).



  • 05-09-2011 9:03 In reply to

    Re: Graphically depicting derived fact types

    I agree that is it is easy to apply a single color to both role boxes (with the fixed stencil), and still possible to apply color to individual role boxes, then that provides the ultimate flexibility needed.

    As for a context menu to indicate "derived" with some sort of visual notation, I think that would best be determined by feedback from practitioners. My guess is that it does not occur enough to warrant a formal notation yet. I only use it in less than 1% of my fact types, and even then only for illustrating things that ought to be removed anyway but which help certain groups of users make connections to the model.

    Perhaps some future user will read this post and add additional insight.

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