You might not have heard of LucidChart before, but I bet you’ve heard of Microsoft Visio.
If you’ve ever had to make a diagram at work, you’ve probably used Microsoft Visio. For years, it has dominated the diagramming market and is a staple of Microsoft’s productivity package. But is its reign as diagramming king about to come to an end? I think so. Meet Lucidchart.
What is Lucidchart?
LucidChart, which we first covered in 2008, allows you to create incredible diagrams and charts without having to install any software, or even open your wallet. They have a free tier, which comes with 25 megabytes of storage for your designs, and a variety of paid plans which can support more expansive (and ambitious) charts. They even have a team plan which allows you to work collaboratively with up to 100 users, and even integrates with Google Apps, Atlassian’s Jira, and Confluence.
You’ll find that the highest tier personal Lucidchart license costs only $8.33 a month. Compare that to Microsoft Visio, which will set you back a great deal more at $299.99 for the premium version.
Admittedly, it’s worth noting that the diagramming and charting software world is a crowded one indeed. Over the past few years, we’ve covered some of the bigger players in the game, from Tableau, to InfoGram, to CaCoo. Lucidchart is one of many, but comes with a set of features that separate them from the rest.
Perhaps the most compelling argument for Lucidchart is the immense flexibility it offers the user with respect to the diagrams that can be created. Lucidchart supports network diagrams, flowcharts, process maps, and even wireframes. Anything you throw at it, it can handle. Personally speaking, I use it to design relational database diagrams, and to create UML class diagrams when working with object-oriented programming languages, such as CoffeeScript, Ruby and Python.
Should you wish to, you can also use Lucidchart to mock-up Android and iOS applications. Handy for any professional (or aspirant) mobile developers.
After you’ve used Lucidchart for any length of time, you’ll notice the stark difference between it and Visio when it comes to aesthetics. Visio uses a slightly dated, unintuitive ‘ribbon’ based environment (what’s the Ribbon menu?), which often gets in the way of real productivity.
Lucidchart is completely different, and looks like a beautiful, modern piece of software. When it comes to business software, Lucidchart is as pretty as it gets.
It’s not just looks though. In terms of usability, Lucidchart shines. Things just work. For example, when you draw lines, they smoothly auto-connect to the edges of shapes. And when shapes are moved, the lines stay connected so your diagram is easier to rearrange. Another example is the auto-prompt feature: when you start connecting shapes, a dialog will pop up that allows you to choose elements from your most frequently-used shape libraries. Finally, keyboard shortcuts will help you move quickly. Hit F1 or Help > Hotkey Reference to see the full list of shortcuts.
Interoperability is crucial when working in a business environment. New software which challenges incumbents lives and dies on how they handle interoperability, as seen by the slow uptake of LibreOffice in business environments.
Should you decide to switch to Lucidchart, you probably want to make sure your old Visio files still work, and you’re able to work with people yet to make the switch. Thankfully, Lucidchart comes with full Visio support, and can create and view files built with Microsoft’s flagship diagramming application.
Lucidchart differs from Visio in the respect that it’s a browser-based application, rather than Visio which runs natively on your machine. As a result, you can use it across a range of devices and computers, with no hassle. Compellingly, you can also break from the hell of the Microsoft upgrade cycle: since Lucidchart is browser-based, you won’t have to pay for upgrades or updates, and there’s no chance of having to purchase a new package every couple of years. This contributes to Lucidchart being a vastly more affordable alternative to Visio.
Visio is expensive, but if you use it in a team environment, these costs are compounded. Mercifully, Lucidchart comes with a team plan. Starting at just $21 per month for a team of 5, you can use Lucidchart between up to 100 users. Lucidchart also offers enterprise account opportunities to teams of more than 100. Lucidchart also beats Visio on collaborative features too as it boasts an in-editor chat window, as well as supporting group-editing of diagrams.
Making A Simple Diagram With Lucidchart
Convinced? You will be when you see how incredibly easy it is to create a diagram with Lucidchart. In a few short steps, I’m going to take you through the process of making a flowchart, from start to finish.
Select Your Template
Once you’ve signed up for your free Lucidchart account and logged in, you’ll be prompted to create a new flowchart. First, click ‘+ Document‘ and select your template. There is an immense wealth of templates available, but right now we’re just going to work with a blank template.
Give Your Chart A Name
Lucidchart makes it a breeze to manage an entire library of charts, but it’s our job to distinguish between them. At the top of the page, you’ll see the name of the document. Clicking that allows you to change the name of the chart.
Add Some Items
To the left of the page, you’ll see a wide array of shapes that you can copy over to your canvas. Let’s select two, and drag them over.
Add Some Labels
To give an item a label, double-click it and type something meaningful that uniquely identifies that item.
Join Your Items Together
In the shapes box, you’ll notice a few items which identify a direction, or a relationship. Since we’re making a flowchart, we’re going to use these.
Select the appropriate one, and then drag it in to your diagram.
Continue to add detail until your diagram is completed. Only you’ll know when that is.
Luckily, Lucidchart constantly saves your progress, but it never hurts to be sure. Click File, and Save.
Come Back To It
Should you need to come back to your diagram, it’ll be waiting for you when you next log in.
Lucidchart is intuitive, beautiful, and best of all, affordable. You can give it a try here. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
Have you used Lucidchart? Love it? Hate it? Tell me your experiences in the comments below.
Image credit: Seamless vector pattern flowcharts