REVIEW: Lovely Charts

Diagramming software is used to produce graphical charts, graphs, flowcharts, and other business graphics. Most titles include simple shape drawing tools, templates, and symbol libraries. Perhaps the best known diagramming application is Microsoft’s Visio (pronounced VIZ-ee-oh), but that doesn’t mean to say it’s the best solution for your company’s needs—it’s also expensive. Don’t lose faith—there are lots of products which probably offer all the diagramming tools you need at the fraction of the price. Some are even free.

What is Lovely Charts and who is it for?

Lovely Charts is a hosted Web application that makes it extremely simple to create great looking diagrams. Using an intuitive drag-and-drop drawing mechanism, it lets you focus on what really matters without having to worry about software settings, drawing boxes or arrows, or even worrying about what symbol to use. The application can be used to create a variety of diagrams including organisational charts, network diagrams, wire frame diagrams, sitemaps and flowcharts—among plenty of others.

It could be used to prioritise employees for a project by determining the chain of command for certain tasks and how new tasks will be distributed throughout a team, or to organise a complicated Web site by figuring out which pages link to where and ensuring there’s smooth transitions throughout the site. You could even create a traditional flowchart with questions and answers, or spend a little downtime creating a family tree.

A fully functional version of Lovely Charts is available for free but there’s also a Professional version (€29 per year) for those who want to import their own images/artwork, share and collaborate with colleagues or clients, attach comments to a diagram, as well as export diagrams in PDF.

In addition, a Professional account will probably give you access to upcoming upgrades of the symbols library—the developers don’t claim to know yet precisely where they are going in this regard so they don’t promise anything specific. The Free edition also limits you to just one saveable diagram, and there’s a ‘Made with lovelycharts.com’ mention on the bottom right of a saved diagram. Thankfully you can ‘upgrade’ at any time without fear of losing your work.

Does it do it well?

The Lovely Charts user experience is second to none. After a quick sign-up process that requires only a username and password (a confirmation code is e-mailed to you), Lovely Charts presents a list of diagram types to choose and also a 90-second video tutorial that guides first-time users through the software’s main features. Don’t feel bad about diving in directly—it’s much more fun and it’s impossible to get lost in this beautiful software. With the click of the mouse you can quickly flick between diagram types, so you’re never tied in to a certain type of drawing.

Most diagramming software requires you to worry about things like choosing colours, drawing arrows, picking up the correct symbols, etc… All the sort of things that get between your ideas and their representation. Lovely Charts does away with all that technical nonsense and lets you get on with drawing.

Thanks to its drag-and-drop drawing mechanism, getting diagrams made in Lovely Charts is a snap. Taking a ‘standard’ approach—supporting all the most common operations of common office applications—Lovely Charts is a careful balance between power and ease of use.

If you’re familiar with Office it’ll take you seconds to master Lovely Charts. Clipboard support allows Cut, Copy and Paste, and file management comprises the usual New, Open, Save, Save As. A history management feature keeps up to 20 states of your diagram in memory so you can always undo an operation if you are unhappy with its result, and there’s unlimited printing in any size and/or quality, only limited by your printer’s capabilities. Diagrams can be exported as JPG or PNG, or PDF with the paid-for edition.

Lovely Charts is the result of a careful balance between power and ease of use. Standard drawing tools/aids include a drawing grid, automatic snapping, alignment tools, depth sorting, zooming and panning (vital with drawing large and/or complex flowcharts), as well as canvas movement.

The drawing grid provides an easy and natural way to align, resize and position symbols in a precise and professional manner. Besides grid snapping, connection handles automatically snap to ‘remarkable’ points, such as the corners, the middle of each side, or the centre of the symbol’s bounding boxes. Alignment tools align both vertically and horizontally multiple symbols at a time, and the ability to interchange the depths of symbols allows for the creation of complex compositions.

Dig deeper and you can select the width, colour and style (continuous, dashed, dotted) of your connecting lines, add or remove arrows, or draw straight or free lines to fully customise your diagram in order to communicate in the most effective way. All symbols look fantastic and have a limited set of options that allow you to tailor them to your needs—without bothering you with bloated properties inspectors. You can change the fill colour, stroke colour and label for most symbols.

One of the best features is the collaboration features, making it possible for multiple colleagues or clients to work together on the same diagram. Everything can be accessed from within the same application, which can be accessed on any computer and virtually any browser. Because it’s Web-based, Lovely Charts it also platform independent.

A number of video tutorials provide a good understanding of everything that you need to do, although it’s not really that difficult to use anyway. Using Lovely Charts is simply a matter of clicking and dragging the items that you want and then linking them together with lines—it’s child’s play!

Where does Lovely Charts disappoint?

Lovely Charts is the result of a careful balance between power and ease of use. The inclusion of each feature has been preciously weighted out in order to provide the most ‘powerful yet simple’ toolset possible. Power users will instantly notice that many features/options are missing compared to the likes of Visio, but this was a smart decision by the developers simply because most high-end features aren’t super important to most users and would bring more complexity than necessary.

Having said that, compared to Flowchart.com, it’s disappointing that Lovely Charts doesn’t support multi-page flowcharts, fine-grain security control, or multi-user online collaboration with chat. We’d also have liked the ability to embed a flowchart in a Web site. These features would make Lovely Charts a whole lot more useful without complicating the user experience.

Would we recommend Lovely Charts?

Forget the stupid name, Lovely Charts does everything it promises. It’s far from the most powerful diagramming program of its type—Flowchart.com probably holds that crown—but it is ideal for individuals and small teams who want to create professional looking charts and diagrams quickly without a relatively high cost investment and steep learning curve.

It is beautifully designed, works well, but most importantly it makes it very easy to create and share all kinds of diagrams and charts. Even if you’re design illiterate, you can produce decent results in minutes with Lovely Charts. And as it is hosted on the Internet, it’s great for companies with employees who are in remote areas. Setup is free and there’s no commitment, so you’ve got nothing to lose.

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