Diagramming can be useful no matter your profession, but we have several health-related programs at CGPS, and in healthcare diagramming is very nearly an essential skill. We’ve had the opportunity, then, to try several different web-based diagram authoring tools, and want to suggest two to anyone out there with needs similar to our own. We chose these two based on four parameters:
- Flexibility – Because our students use diagrams for widely variant applications, from modeling relational databases to workflows, and our the diagramming tool should be able to do all of it easily
- Ease of use – Because students, faculty and staff need to be using the tool, not learning how to use it
- Affordability – Not only for us, but for our students, who will be learning a tool and potentially using it after they have graduated
- Sustainability – Will the tool be around in five years?
The two we found that meet or exceed in these criteria are Draw.io and Lucidchart:
Draw.io is a free, open source diagramming tool with a wide following and regular updates that can be tracked on Github. It has no frills – as you can see, you are prompted to either open an existing diagram or start a new one as soon as you go to the website – no advertising, and no payment plans. Normally, open source solutions come with a fair share of concerns, mostly to do with funding (if no one is getting paid to keep the tool up to date, how can we guarantee that it will be around in a few years?). But Draw.io has a rich community of users and its source code is public among an equally rich community of coders who can continue the good work, or fork it into something completely new. And there is precedent for tools with this model to be successful, and powerful, for a long time.
Lucidchart is vying to be an industry standard alternative to Microsoft Visio, and therefore it is not free. It is extremely powerful, though, and it has a very attractive free plan for educators and students. Best of all, it seems to be doing well for itself, and so we expect it will be around for awhile, and the fact that it is putting so much effort into being adopted by professional enterprises means we are training our students on a real enterprise solution, not a consumer adjunct.
Both of these tools are good options for those who just need to make one diagram and those who need to pick an easy-but-powerful tool for a class of several hundred students, and we think both will be around for awhile.