I have been working on a project that involves making flowcharts. In the past I used Google Docs for this, but the shapes you can use are limited. I even own expensive graphing software, but it is complicated and the look isn’t the greatest.
I remembered that someone had once sent me a chart made with Lucidchart, and decided to give it a try. After quickly banging out my first flowchart, I took to Twitter:
Woah, @lucidchart is awesome. Going to have to do a blog post about this soon.
— Brooks Duncan (@documentsnap) March 7, 2015
Lucidchart is web-based flowchart software, but feels like a Mac app (for you Windows users out there, this is a compliment).
To start with, they have a ton of templates for all sorts of different diagrams. I have mainly used the flowchart ones, but when I have wanted to quickly create another type of diagram I have often found something to start from from their pre-made templates or from user-submitted ones.
Of course, if you’re better at charts than I am, you can just start from scratch.
Let’s start with a blank canvas. You can see you have a grid and a toolbar on the right, and your shapes on the left.
If you want to add more shapes, you can hit the More Shapes button on the bottom. You can also upload your own images if you’d like.
Now, I’ll tell you straight up that I have no design skills whatsoever. I quickly came to rely on this little button in the top corner that will apply a theme. A lifesaver for a hack like me.
Since I’m writing this from Starbucks, let’s map out my typical Starbucks process.
To add shapes, just drag the icon from the palette on the left to the grid.
As you’re dragging and dropping the shapes, you can use the guides to make sure you’re positioning things correctly (again, a lifesaver for me).
I usually put down all the shapes first, and then do the arrows. Lucidchart makes this really easy. You just drag from the point on one to the point on the other. You don’t need to mess around with arrow tools or anything like that.
A nice touch: when you drag arrows for decision shapes, it will pre-populate Yes and No. Of course, you can change it to whatever you’d like.
If you are working with others, you can invite people to collaborate with you. I haven’t tried this out myself.
Once you have your graphic how you want it, you can export it. I usually export it as an image, but you can save it to PDF, PNG, JPG, or Visio.
Here is my Starbucks workflow chart as a PNG:
If you want to put the chart on a webpage, you can even embed it. Here is my chart embedded:
Many graphic applications will do many of these things, but there aren’t a lot of them that will do them all, and do them all in such an easy to use way. Lucidchart is free for up to 25 MB of storage and your documents can have up to 60 items. If your needs exceed that, there are plans from $3/month depending on the features and storage you want.
As you can tell, I’m a fan. If you have diagrams you need to create, it is worth giving the free plan a look.