July 12, 2011

OmniGraffle: Useful Tips and Features

OmniGraffle is a very powerful diagraming application in which many features are overlooked by the designers and engineers who use it. OmniGraffle is often seen as a simple application to create flow charts like Inspiration, but the truth is that OmniGraffle can be one of the most important applications in the toolbox of an engineer or designer. Whether it be for interface mockups, creating workflow charts, illustrating ideas, or creating professional diagrams for publications, OmniGraffle has proven itself as a powerful utility for visual thinkers. These are a few great tips and tricks I have learned over the years:

1) Using Outliner

If you want to create a very quick flowchart and do not want to spend most of your time using your mouse, you can create a quick flowchart by using the outline tool.

  1. Create a new document.
    Step 01
  2. Go to the Diagram Layout panel and check on "Automatic Layout".
    This allows OmniGraffle to automatically readjust the layout as you create more objects.
    Step 02
  3. Click on the "List" button in the toolbar to expose the list sidebar. Switch the sidebar to Outline.
    Step 2
  4. Add your categories as an outline. Hit tab to add a child in the outline.
    Step 04

2) Creating a File Hierarchy Diagram

Outline of Folders

Have you ever needed to explain the organization of a folder structure to people but it can be really confusing to describe or create a diagram? It is very easy to create a folder hierarchy diagram using OmniGraffle. To demonstrate, I created a folder called "Pictures" with subfolders for each year of photos, with subfolders of each season. This process can be used with any folder hierarchy.

  1. Open OmniGraffle.
  2. Drag the "Pictures" folder onto the OmniGraffle icon on the Dock.
    Step 01
  3. In the Folder Import panel, select your appropriate levels and numbers of files you would like displayed.
    Step 03
  4. You now have a diagram of your folder hierarchy.

3) Adding Notes to PDFs

Notes can be a powerful feature to annotate OmniGraffle documents to allow people to consult on a file and give feedback. If you are sending a PDF of a diagram and interface, why not add some information to describe elements of a diagram to a client? Using the notes feature within OmniGraffle, you can.

Click on the object that you would like to annotate.

  1. In the Properties Panel, switch to "Notes".
    Step 01
  2. Add you note within the note section.
  3. Go to File > Export.
    Step 03
  4. Under Format, select "PDF vector image".
    Step 04
  5. Check the option "include notes".
    Step 05

When you open the PDF in Acrobat or Preview, you will see a notes icon next to the object indicating there is a note associated with that object.

4) Changing Measurement Scale

Let's say you are trying to create a layout plan for an exhibition. If you went around the room and took dimensions, it is a whole lot easier when your measurements are the same as real life instead of having to do the math to shrink it down to size in OmniGraffle.

In this demonstration, we will make a template that has a ratio of 1 in = 6 ft.

  1. Create a new document.

    Step 01

  2. In the Canvas Panel, go to Size.
  3. Under Ruling Size, switch to "feet (ft)".
  4. Under Scale, switch to "Custom" and type "1 in = 6 ft"
    Step 03

You are all set. Now all of the measurements shown on the page will be in feet measurement.

5) Export Interactive Mockups as PDF

One of the most useful features I have found has been OmniGraffle's integration with generating Interactive PDFs. Let's say you are creating an interface mockup for a client. It would be really great if you could also simulate to the client what appears when they click on different buttons. Using the Action features in OmniGraffle you can use different layers, URLs, AppleScripts, to reference a specific point. This can help communicate a vision and mockup more effectively to customers. What's more, these interactions are included when you export a PDF, so that when you send a PDF to your client, they can use the interactivity as well!

Posted at 10:55 am by Ben Vanderberg

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