Last week, I needed to create a diagram for a new e-book I’m working on. I needed to depict the flow of information into and out of a mind map, and I needed to get this illustration done in a hurry. Sounds like a perfect job for SmartDraw. So I opened up the new 2008 version, which I have installed on my laptop but haven’t had a chance to use yet. SmartDraw and I go back a long way; I’ve been using the program for years to create business diagrams, and I consider it to be the best program in this genre of software.
When you first open SmartDraw 2008, you are greeted by a wizard, one of those dialog boxes on steroids that helps newbies to get started with a complex program. This wizard contains numerousa types of diagram templates from which you can choose. I spent a few minutes looking through these selections, but didn’t find one that seemed to meet my needs.
So I experimented a bit. I chose one type of diagram, and immediately discovered that it only gave me access to a small fraction of the program’s extensive symbol libraries. There didn’t seem to be any option to exit out of this filtered set of resources. So I was forced to exit the program, reopen it and try a different type of diagram. No luck.
Next, I looked for a menu selection or button that would allow me to exit out of this wizard and create a blank diagram, with full access to all of SmartDraw’s libraries and resources. Maybe I’m missing something, but I wasn’t able to find one. In desparation, I clicked on the big round button that is the anchor of SmartDraw’s ribbon toolbar – unfortunately, the only command that wasn’t grayed out was "open." I couldn’t even use it to create a new, blank document! So I finally gave up in frustration, and used another program to create my diagram.
SmartDraw.com has done very well over the years by catering to the needs of people who occasionally need to create colorful, memorable diagrams. Historically, it’s ease-of-use has been unrivaled by any program in the business drawing arena, in my opinion. But I’m afraid that this time they’ve gone too far. Here’s what I mean:
Developers of graphical programs face a unique challenge: they need to make their applications easy enough for first-time users to get things done without becoming overwhelmed, while at the same time meeting the needs of their more experienced users. Microsoft Publisher does this well. When you start up this popular desktop publishing program, it displays an extensive wizard that helps you to select from literally hundreds of possible projects, with thumbnail images of each choice. But – and this is the important part – it also provides a command called "create a blank publication," which more experienced users can utilize to exit from the wizard and create their own publication from scratch. That’s what’s missing from SmartDraw 2008. Or if it is there, it needs to be made more obvious.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not out to trash SmartDraw. I just felt hog-tied by this program, which really limited my options and made it impossible to meet my needs!