Monday, December 3, 2012

Visio lite: Google Docs Draw

Often I have clients asking about how they can visualize their processes and other aspects of their business.

The obvious answer is always Microsoft's Visio. Don't get me wrong--it's a great product that allows free-form and rigid design all the same.

But it's overkill for the average business person, and suffers from an avalanche of features that most people looking for a simple sketching tool won't ever exploit. Not to mention of course that it's expensive!

Of course, in a cloud-enabled world, we can avoid costly and time-consuming management of desktop software like Visio. Imagine if Google had a cloud-connected version of Visio?! Well, in a word, they do!

Enter Google Docs Draw. Basically it lets you create shapes, and link them with unbreakable lines that move and snap to your shapes. This makes it really easy to create simple flowcharts and organizational aides.

Some features

  • Collaborate - share and collectively modify drawings with people inside and outside of your organization
    • It's very trippy and cool to see someone moving some shapes around in a corner of the document
  • Connect shapes with unbreakable lines
  • Export PDF or image files of your Draw documents

What kind of things can you do with Google Draw?

Do some basic graphic design:

Plan out the flow of your phone menu and secretarial procedures:

Or insert a background picture and add on top of that. Here, a basic Gantt chart:

Mock up some forms for graphic design:

Design some user interfaces for software:

 Make a floor plan:

Some other tips

 I've found that some people are confused about the "canvas"  or viewable area in Google Docs Draw. They don't understand that your drawing can actually be larger than the canvas, and wonder why when they export the drawing, there are edges or entire portions that are missing!

The canvas is represented by a checkered pattern as illustrated in the above screenshots. If any part of your image is outside of this area, it will be clipped off when you export the image to another format using File->Download as->

Please note of course, that if you share the Google Drawing, the people whom you share it with will see everything, inside the canvas or not.

Say for example you want to show a portion of a proprietary document to an outsider? In this case, we can resize the canvas to expose only the area that we want to show, then export as a PNG or JPEG that can be sent by email to a semi-trusted party. The recipient will see only the area inside the canvas.

Here's an example where the canvas only encompasses a small part of the entire drawing.
And now, when I export as a PNG file, the recipient sees:

Another good use of the canvas is if you have a set of small figures that you are using as a library, where you copy items from off of the canvas and paste them into the viewable area. When you export, all of those little items you've left off to the side will not be visible!

In summary, Google Docs Draw is not Visio, but for many purposes it fits the bill for ease of use, availability, and functionality.