Dependence on the cloud is growing and many desktop applications are getting left behind in favour of collaborative, access-anywhere solutions. The ability to quickly share, tweak and work together from thousands of miles away clearly has its benefits, regardless of application.
Diagramming software is no different, and one browser-based solution is Creately. In addition to real-time collaboration the service has a plethora of applications, from mindmaps to Venn diagrams and everything in between.
Best of all it’s free to use forever, and the premium service starts at $5 a month if you need a little more.
Uses For Creately
Whatever your diagramming needs, Creately comes well-equipped for the job. From enterprise to small business, individual to education – there are a lot of tools to help you design your ideal diagram. Free users can save and maintain a total of 5 publicly viewable diagrams, with a maximum of 3 real-time collaborators per project.
Of course once you’ve exported your diagram as a PDF document, PNG/JPG image or via email you’re free to delete it and make another, continuing to use the service for free for as long as you want.
If you’re still not quite sure what you’d need a diagramming tool for, here’s a brief overview of the types of things Creately handles with ease:
- Productivity – Flowcharts, organisation charts, business process maps and Gantt charts.
- Education – Mind-maps, spider diagrams and Venn diagrams.
- Individual – Family trees, infographics and organisation charts.
- User Interface & Web design – UI and iPhone/iPad Mockups, database diagrams and sitemaps.
The diagram builder adapts your workspace by adding and removing object categories depending on the type of diagram you are working on. This means that if you’re making a family tree or spider diagram you won’t be bombarded with UI mockup or database diagram objects you don’t need. Conversely, you can add everything Creately has to offer to your workspace – though you’ll soon realise that the sheer number of available objects means this isn’t best practice.
The workspace is split into four separate areas. Creately uses a tabbed layout for separate diagrams, allowing you to work on a maximum of five at a time with your free account. Above these tabs you’ll see the usual options for saving, opening and exporting your diagram as well as dedicated tools for text, lines and images.
To the left of the screen is the object library from which you can grab scalable vectors including shapes, thought bubbles, lettering, images and project-specific shapes and objects. This section is fully searchable using the bar at the top, which can also query Google Images and IconFinder.com for suitable results. To add or remove object classes from your project, click the Add New Objects button for the full list.
In the middle of the screen is the grid-based blank canvas on which your objects reside. Simply drag an object from the library onto the canvas and release. Each object is scalable to any size, and because everything in the library is in vector format you won’t need to worry about pixellation.
Clicking on and then hovering the mouse over an object reveals a list of one-click functions including the ability to add text to an object, reorder (bring to front or back), connect to another object and link the object to a URL. From here you can also click the 1-Click-Create button to replicate the current object and connect it to a copy, which is a real time-saver.
To the right is a collapsible menu for altering object properties which adapts depending on the object you have currently selected. Here you can also add comments, configure sharing options for real-time collaborators and get help if you need it. There’s very little else to Creately, and that’s a good thing.
Saving Time With Templates
If you’re tight on time and need almost immediate results Creately includes a rich library of templates from which to start your project. These are completely free to use and adapt as you see fit without upgrading to a premium account, with more and more being added by the community each week.
The option to use a template is present each time you start a new project, or you can browse the full list here – simply select a design, and click Use as Template to start work straight away. In addition to basic network diagrams and flow-chart examples, there are UI-based templates for software such as Apple Mail and newly added vector iPhone and iPad designs.
There are more than 200,000 public diagrams available through Creately and each can be used to start your next diagram. Similarly, diagrams created with a free account are shared within this database until you choose to delete them or upgrade to enable private storage.
Creately is a premium product that comes with a sensible and powerful free option. For individuals working on their first projects and students in need of a study aid Creately is an ideal tool. The recent addition of real-time collaboration for all users means you can organise, plan and design regardless of distance.
Have you used Creately? What did you think? Are there any other tools you would recommend? Let us know in the comments!