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During UX work there are many times when you need to build a flow chart, a sitemap or any other type of diagram. I've been using OmniGraffle on my Mac but at work I have to use a PC, so I gave Dia a try. Dia is great because it is versatile and also free. But I am wondering what is the best diagram tool out there. And by this I mean a versatile tool that could be used for creating any type of diagram. The tool could be web-based, free or paid.

Please share what tool you use and try to present it's strong and weak points.

Don't confuse diagrams with wireframes. Here are few examples of diagrams:

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closed as not constructive by JonW May 12 '12 at 19:02

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You should try to expand on your question by being more specific. What are your use cases? If you just ask a broad question like "what is the best X", you'll get replies that just tell you about some tool without explaining why it's useful. Are you looking for versatile? Free? Web-based? etc. Be as specific as possible. –  Rahul May 18 '11 at 12:11
    
Can I be clearer than this? :) –  Marian May 18 '11 at 13:56
    
A wireframe is a diagram. Are you specifically asking about flow charts? If so, I'd suggest clarifying the question to indicate that. –  DA01 May 19 '11 at 20:12
    
@DA01, I'm sorry but there is no way a wireframe is a diagram. Yes, I am talking about flow charts but also logical schemes or sitemaps. Check out my examples. –  Marian May 20 '11 at 6:09
    
@Marian: Diagram = "A simplified drawing showing the appearance, structure, or workings of something". I think Wireframe fits that. The term diagram refers to pretty much any sort of illustration describing something...so a flow chart, a blueprint, an exploded view rendering, etc. Flow charts would be a specific type of diagram. And there's software designed more for that specific need than illustration in general. (I do see you are in Europe so perhaps there are cultural differences in the definition of 'diagram'). –  DA01 May 20 '11 at 13:21

7 Answers 7

Gives me problems recommending Microsoft products, however, give the 30 day trial of Visio a go. Visio was awesome when Microsoft bought it 15+ years ago, it also enables you to do clever things with data sources such as Excel spreadsheets. One feature I particularly like is how you can neatly arrange your diagram elements and then get them to fit onto a standard page size, e.g. A4.
There is a terrific amount of support for Visio and the template library is un-matched for a diagram tool. Another benefit is that it is management friendly - project managers like and use it.

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Checked out the 'Sketchflow' and that is a clone of something else that has got fashionable recently. I don't know why the Microsoft Expression team want to re-invent the wheel when they have the mature, as loved by many 'Visio' out there. Also these new fangled Microsoft Expression efforts tend to fall over. As for InDesign/Illustrator/Photoshop in paths mode, they are not what you need to get the job done, even if they are cross platform in the way that Visio is not. The functionality just is not there. Tools are all about productivity, not excellence in CMYK. –  ʍǝɥʇɐɯ May 18 '11 at 18:46
    
For someone used to omnigraffle, Visio pales in comparison. –  DA01 May 19 '11 at 20:13
    
The question says 'CREATING ANY TYPE OF DIAGRAM', and in bold. Any Apple fan will instinctively be able to put together prettier diagrams in Omnigraffle in half the time and rave on about it for twice as long, however, there situations where anything other than Visio is a non-starter. Examples? The allergic-to-the-Apple engineering department that just want the diagram but don't need chintz. Management needing editable Gantt charts that export into their latest copy of Office. People with DXF/DWG floorplans to work with. Power users with VBA skills (90% of Visio users use 10% of the features.) –  ʍǝɥʇɐɯ May 19 '11 at 22:54
    
No arguments there. Visio is ubiquitous. But it's still not a great piece of software. –  DA01 May 20 '11 at 0:26

Sketchflow by Microsoft is great for developing rough WPF and Silverlight applications. The only catch is that it is not free. If you are working with Microsoft products thought it can be well worth it.

Skecthflow

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To create "any type of diagram" I'd say you need a drawing application of some sort maybe Illustrator or InDesign. These will require a little more effort but will allow you to create diagrams that fit your need whilst avoiding the problems of only using shapes that you have available in the pallet.

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When I get to the point of needing to mock something up in a tool (you'd be surprised how far you can usefully get with whiteboards and stickie notes), I reach for Visual Thought. It comes with a bunch of palettes for specialized symbols (flowcharts, circuits, networks, etc), along with the general bucket of shapes and lines/arrows that you can assemble into pretty much anything you want.

The company that made it (Confluent) has since gone out of business, and on their way out they made the software freely available and published a license key. Because it's not being maintained it doesn't support the newest output formats; I particularly miss not having SVG. But it exports everything else I might need (PNG, JPG, GIF) and a bunch more.

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don't get me wrong, but I would never use a product released by a company that went out of business. Just because of the fact that if their product was really good, then they would still be in business. –  Marian May 20 '11 at 6:03
    
The quality of software is rarely a direct correlation to the success of the company. I mean, look at MS. –  DA01 May 20 '11 at 13:25
    
@Marian, so you'd never use anything free or open-source? For what it's worth, I've been using Visual Thought for more than a decade without problems. (I don't know what else the company did, what their business model was, whether they were just unlucky in the dot-com crash, or what.) –  Monica Cellio May 20 '11 at 14:38
    
of course I use free or open-source software. I know that my opinion is subjective, I don't expect everyone to think the same way. In the end everyone can use the programs that suits their needs. Please don't take my comment the wrong way. –  Marian May 20 '11 at 14:47
    
@Marian, no harm done & I hope I didn't come across wrong either. These things are subjective, I know. –  Monica Cellio May 23 '11 at 13:23

yEd is a freely available, multi-platform, general-purpose diagramming software, supporting manual and automatic layout (the latter as e.g. in Graphviz) and is able to handle many different data formats for the graphs as well as for saving the resulting visual representation.

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this looks interesting. I will give it a try today. –  Marian May 20 '11 at 6:04
    
cheers, i tend to do final adjustments in inkscape then –  type May 20 '11 at 6:09

Inkscape being a vector graphics editor application has rudimentary diagram support by offering diagram connectors (Ctrl-F2) that glue to objects also when moving. Its default file format is SVG but it can directly save and read (!) PDFs among many others.

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I had no idea Inkscape had automatic connectors! Will have to check that out. –  DA01 May 19 '11 at 20:15

Axure comes very similar to OmniGraffle. I haven't used it yet (I'm working mostly in OmniGraffle) but it looks like it has a strong focus on those features that are most important to me: very precise snapping and alignment. The software is mainly for wireframes, though. The link I provided includes a demovideo for flow diagrams.

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