I’ve recently been tasked with flowcharting many of my organization’s processes. This sort of task typically falls to software such as Microsoft Visio, which retails at around $559, or SmartDraw, a much more reasonable $159 (for the Mac, there’s also OmniGraffe). Still, if you’re like me, you only need this type of software occasionally, making those prices seem pretty steep.
For this reason, I was pretty excited to try Google Drawings. There already seems to be some good momentum behind the app. For example, others in the web design community have already begun creating wireframing templates. And being a regular Google Apps user, the interface felt right at home.
But for flowcharting, Google Apps is just about as good as Microsoft Word. Here’s why: The arrows don’t snap to the shapes. Drawings does have a nice feature that helps you align shapes to each other. However, it doesn’t always work, especially when you’re trying to connect the endpoint of an arrow to a new shape.
Consider the following scenario: You start out with a large canvas, and leave a generous amount of space between shapes.
But as you continue to draw, you start to run out of space. This document must be printed, remember, so you’re working on a fixed-sized canvas, not a limitless expanse of drawing area. The bottom right corner of your flowchart is densely packed with a plethora of process boxes and decision diamonds, while the top left remains sparingly spacious. So, you decide to rearrange them, to space them more evenly, and you end up with this:
And you realize that you have to manually reconnect every arrow to every shape you moved. Oh, and the sharp point of the arrow is the side that doesn’t snap. And you can’t see the point of the arrow as you move it around, it suddenly disappears, until you let go of the mouse. It’s as if Google doesn’t want flowcharts to flow.
Which means, to flowchart for a reasonable price, it’s back to the old freeware standby, Diagram Designer. It amazes me that this software designed for Windows 98 and written in Delphi is still the best option right now. Hopefully Google will change this, and soon! Perhaps if I procrastinate a bit longer…