October 1st, 2010 by

Drawing a diagram can be an effective way to communicate with people. I personally love having a dry erase board on hand to convey even the simplest concepts. This has less to do with my skill in diagramming and more to do with my secret fondness of dry erase boards.

The computer introduces a dilemma in diagramming though. Most people aren’t Adobe Photoshop experts, and many of the graphic design tools don’t lend themselves to creating basic flows. Curved lines, creative graphics- these things take too much hassle for non graphic designers to draw up.

SimpleDiagrams

As a result numerous diagramming tools have been built, each with their own array of features and functions. Most are complex and quickly cause those without graphic design skills to go running back to their dry erase boards. A new tool is on the market, one designed for real people. SimpleDiagrams.

SimpleDiagrams is a small desktop application that provides only the functionality needed to express one’s idea or concept. It runs on the (freely available) Adobe AIR platform and as such can be installed on PCs, Macs, or Linux.

The first thing that’s different about SimpleDiagrams is that it looks great. I mean, it looks really great. It comes with three different styles. The first is and old style chalkboard complete with texture from years of use. Next is a dry erase board which also has a clean but slightly used background. Finally it offers a back to the basics white background with plain Jane diagramming markers. When using the chalkboard or whiteboard options it adds some character to the diagram lines such that it looks like you actually drew it on the board.

SimpleDiagrams Example

The next thing that stands out about SimpleDiagrams is its feature set. It only contains the features you need. Their philosophy is, if you need more features, there are more complex diagramming tools you can go figure out. As for me, (still clinging discretely to my prized dry erase board), SimpleDiagrams is as far as I’m willing to venture.

The features include a pencil, a line which can be made curvy, text, and then a series of preloaded libraries full of graphics. Graphics are divided into categories including Basic, Biz, Meetings, and Communication. Examples are a telephone, stop sign, a series of shapes, and my personal favorite, a fax machine. (My fondness of dry erase boards is rivaled only by real, live, functioning fax machines.) All items can be readily resized and color changed to that of the user’s choosing. Note that true to the simple philosophy, they don’t offer all 16.7 million possible hex color values. They provide a concise sampling which fits on the screen nicely. It’s more akin to the 120 Crayola colors, which is to say, actually useful. Nobody needs 2000 versions of orange. A couple other features include the ability to import photos and add notes on post-its or index cards.

SimpleDiagrams has two offerings. The first is their free version. Or they can buy the full version. The free offering comes with all the above options. It has the limitations of only being able to save the diagram to .png files, rather than being able to save it in xml format for future editing. There are also more libraries available with the paid version.

SimpleDiagrams is a great tool for creating mockups. The attractive flow and styling makes them ideal for presentations to clients or for internal discussions. Although some of us are slow to admit that dry erase boards aren’t always necessary, Simple Diagrams does its part to help us move on. For others, SimpleDiagrams is just an easy way to create attractive diagrams when you need them.

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