Monday, December 24, 2012

Express Your Ideas with "Simple Diagrams"

If you need a low-cost, easy-to-learn tool for drawing diagrams, I can recommend Simple Diagrams  by Daniel McQuillen.

Simple Diagrams is a small-footprint Adobe Air application. It downloads and installs quickly and presents an intuitive, very clean interface to the first-time user. If you're already familiar with standard drawing toolbars such as those in Word or PowerPoint, you'll very quickly be clicking and dragging your way to your first picture.

I found the line tool is particularly handy. Instead of having to fuss with bezier curves (which I always find confusing), you just drag a central ball handle to change the curve of a line.

To combine objects that you've added, simply click and drag to select them, as you do in PowerPoint. Once objects are grouped, it is a little tricky to move them. Don't click on the handles of grouped objects, this will stretch or rotate the group. Instead, click on any vector line within the group and drag to move the whole group. 

The default background is a blackboard, but you can easily change it at any time by dragging a different background from the library panel on the right. Curioulsy, a simple white background does not seem to be an option. There is a whiteboard, but it includes some slight, simulated smudges as you might find on a real whiteboard that hasn't been washed. Not helpful. If you are wanting to provide presentation-quality diagrams, a simple white background should be a no-brainer.

For icons to jazz up your pictures, Simple Diagrams comes with a library of symbols, and there are additional premium libraries available at modest cost.

You can add annotations with a plain text tool, or you can insert them in notecard or sticky note objects. You can also import your own pictures by pulling in an annotation object and clicking an add image link. 

For help learning Simple Diagrams, there are a few video tutorials available on the site from e-learning guru Tom Kuhlmann (of The Rapid E-Learning Blog).  More tutorials are planned and would be a welcome addition. 

Overall, Simple Diagrams is a great little tool for visually communicating your ideas. Here's a little plot I produced to show how it compares to some other prominent tools. As you can see, combining low cost and low learning curve with a high degree of diagramming horsepower, Simple Diagrams is a winner.