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Did you ever click the bright red “New” button inside your Google Drive?
Google Drawings isn’t at the forefront of tools. The limelight is reserved for Docs, Sheets, and Slides. But let’s do a reawakening of sorts and click on More to go to the “neglected” siblings. We have seen the usefulness of Google Forms. It’s time to appreciate the versatility of Google Drawings.
Google Drawings is the freshest among all Google Drive tools. It is not a full-blown image editor like MS Paint. But the graphic editor is more powerful for one simple fact – it is a real-time collaborative application. At its most basic, it is an online whiteboard. At its most advanced it can be more if you allow Joshua Pomeroy to change your mind about its limits.
That’s just one. Find more inspiration in his YouTube Playlist.
Now, that we have got the limitations of Google Drawings out of the way, let’s look at a few more creative uses. Because not all of us are blessed with Joshua’s skills.
Use It for Collaborative Post-It Notes
Think of Google Drawings as an universal whiteboard for sticking Post-It notes. When you begin, it need not even be a collaborative project. Start your own – and then share your thoughts with others using a URL. The above virtual Post-It note was created in 5 minutes using Shapes, Google Fonts, and an image search for the “pin”. All within Google Drawings.
When you can’t be at the same place, a quick Google Drawings share coupled with a Hangouts chat is an easy solution. Anyone in the team can add comments and other Post-It notes to the virtual office wall.
Create Your Own Graphic Organizers
Graphic organizers are diagrams that help organize information visually. Some of the varieties are called concept maps, entity relationship charts, and mind maps. With the help of one, you can have a bird’s eye view of your thoughts. For instance, a spider diagram can be used to group ideas, a flow chart can be useful for sequencing a process, and a fishbone diagram can be used to show cause and effect.
Use the library of templates to take a shortcut (e.g. a flowchart template) or create your own from scratch. Google Drawings has the shapes, colors, and fonts to help you create memorable spatial structures quickly. The above diagram is a simple spider diagram illustrating the shortcuts you can use to create a graphic organizer.
This webinar by Eric Curts shows you the options you can explore in Google Drawings for your custom needs.
Design an Infographic
You might not create the next viral infographic with Google Drawings. But if you have an idea and the data to back it up, you are on your way to impress your boss. These two key ingredients can be supported with shapes, images, text, charts, graphs, tables, and colors to create the visual impact. Hyperlink your data to external resources to create a more dynamic infographic. Here are the basic first steps.
- Start by researching the data that will go into the infographic.
- Resize the Drawings canvas to a long rectangle as they are usually vertically oriented. Alternatively, go to File > Page Setup and enter the dimensions.
- Use a background color or find free textures to use for the background. Go to Insert > Image to upload the texture file. Resize the texture to fit the background. You can also set a background color (Right Click > Background).
- Create your graphics by combining different shapes and grouping them together. You can create the shapes off-stage and then drag them into the canvas. Grouped graphics can be custom colored with a single click.
Note: Google Drawings includes Snap to grid and Snap to guides. Align objects and draw them to the same size with better precision. Go to View > Snap To > Grids / Guides.
Step-by-step instructions on creating infographics is outside the scope of this article, but here’s a starter video for guidance.
Make Custom Graphics for Google Docs, Sheets, or Slides
This is perhaps the most obvious use of Google Drawings. As a sibling, it is the most accessible tool for inserting custom graphics into your Google Drive documents via the Web Clipboard. Here are a few creative ways you can use Drawings:
Create your own Clipart Library. Make your own reusable batch of clipart. Source images with Google Search and modify them in Google Drawings.
Create your own picture bullets. Create unique vector bullets with Shapes. The “Lightbulb” bullet below was made by combining shapes and a callout. You can also tweak a minimalist raster image and use it as a bullet.
Create a custom signature. Customize your digital signature in Google Drawings. Group all the elements into a single graphic and use it in Drive documents or Gmail.
Do Note: Copying a drawing to a different file creates a copy of the original drawing. Edits made to either the original or the copy do not automatically apply to the other.
Screen Design with Wireframes
Wireframes are blueprints for any screen designs. Think simple shapes without any color or frills. They help the designers focus on how content will be laid out or how a prototype design will function. There are a dime and a dozen wireframing tools, so you will be spoilt for choice. But for simplicity, collaboration, and accessibility Google Drawings can step up to the plate. Google Drive gives you a few readymade wireframe templates.
You can just as easily create your own wireframing kit with Google Drawings. The wireframing kit can be made up of the basic starting blocks you need for any design. Leave the elements in the gutter (the space next to the canvas) for quick reuse on any new project.
This 15-minute video gives you an idea of the process:
Understand Relationships with Database Schemas
Using Google Drawings to plot database schemas is not my original idea. The Web Development Group demonstrates this simple hack. Database schemas are logical grouping of objects such as tables, views, stored procedures etc. It describes how a database is structured and the relationships between the objects it holds.
Think of a database schema like a roadmap: it lays out the overall process, visually demonstrating where information is coming from and where it is going.
Google Drawings can be used to show entity relationships. Couple it with real-time collaboration and you get a useful tool for creating schemas.
Annotating images help to describe what an image is all about. In a time when everything is so graphic, annotation also works as a tool for visual “storytelling.” Again, you can choose from a wealth of web annotation tools. Google Drawings is one that’s close by for any image commentary.
Annotating an image in Google Drawings is simple with the variety of tools on offer.
- Use Print Screen to take a screenshot (or upload an image directly to Google Drawings).
- Use the Crop tool (Format > Crop Image) on the toolbar to isolate the section you would like to show.
- Use the Shape and Line tools to highlight the points on the image.
- Google Drawings has a variety of shapes and arrowheads to help you stylize the annotations.
- Insert text annotations (with the Text Box) and format with font style and size. Also, try Shapes > Callouts.
- Go to Format > Image Options for any color corrections.
- Go to File > Download as for the finished PNG or JPEG file. You can also share the annotated image via Google Drive.
Create Hotspots on Images
Think of a world map. Clicking each country takes you to the Wikipedia page with all the details.
Think of an idea. Explain it better by breaking down the idea and linking its part to more external data.
With the help of an image map or hotspots, you can convey a lot of information with just a single photo or drawing. Guess what! Google Drawings helps you easily craft neat image maps without any knowledge of HTML. And quickly, too.
Insert or draw an image on a blank Google Drawings canvas.
- Go to Insert > Line > Polyline. Use the Polyline tool to draw around the clickable area.
- Go to Insert > Link (or Ctrl + K) and add the external webpage or another Google Drive document to the hyperlink box.
- Make the bounding polygonal area vanish by setting Shape and Line color to transparent.
- Share the Drawing, embed it in your blog, or download it as a PDF file.
Watch Chris Betcher use a Google Drawing for an image map of his team:
A Canvas For Your Ideas
Like any other drawings tool, only your ideas can explore the limits of Google Drawings. From explaining multi-step processes to brainstorming collaboratively, Google Drive’s much neglected family member could be your favorite foot soldier for everyday tasks. Tools like Microsoft Visio might be more convenient for more complex charting jobs, but few tools can beat Google Drawings at its most unique selling points – real-time collaboration and the fantastic price of free.
As a chess lover, I can’t help but think – is it possible to create a real-time chess game with Google Drawings? Or an interactive visual resume with graphics, text, and hotspots? See where my wild thought took me!
So, tell me yours. Do you use Google Drawings? What are the creative uses you can think of putting Google’s fledgling tool to?