Back in the early days of this blog, I wrote a post reviewing Lucidchart, a web-based flowchart creation tool. That was almost seven years ago (wow, I’m getting old) and they just released a major update to their software which adds a bunch of new features. I don’t normally have very sophisticated flowchart needs, so in the past I’ve just used Lucidchart’s free tier, but this seemed like a good excuse to check out the new version and put some of their more powerful features to the test.
Disclaimer: Lucidchart was founded by a friend and old co-worker of mine, and he was kind enough to give me a trial of the enterprise plan for this review.
If you aren’t familiar with Lucidchart, it’s probably easiest to think of it as the main thing missing from Google Docs. Google Docs lets you create and edit text documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. It has cutting edge editors that feel like installed software even though they’re entirely web-based, and it features really powerful real-time collaboration (something somehow still missing from installed productivity software). All of that describes Lucidchart as well, but their tool is meant for creating flowcharts, diagrams, and other visual documents. If you’ve ever used Microsoft Visio, this is like the modern version of that.
Note: if you want to skip the background and get straight to my conclusions, scroll down to the“takeaways” section at the bottom.
Lucidchart has a free version which lets you make basic documents (simple flowcharts, etc.) which I’ve been using for years, but for this review I wanted to test out some of the new features that I hadn’t used before, so I needed to come up with a more sophisticated use case. I saw that they have features for designing an office floor plan, and we’re about to have a bunch of interns join us for the summer which means we need to re-arrange all the furniture. It’s always challenging figuring out where everyone should sit, so I figured I’d see if Lucidchart could make the process a bit easier.
I was a bit skeptical because based on my previous experiences, it seemed like Lucidchart wasn’t really designed for this type of thing. But after poking around, I realized that they have a bunch of different“shape” libraries to handle all kinds of different use cases including mocking up software UI, planning out data centers, and, you guessed it, designing floor plans. Once I had the“Floor plan” library selected, it was a piece of cake. I could just drag all my objects (walls, desks, etc.) onto the canvas and it automatically handled connecting everything and handling measurements.
Then came the really cool part. In the past I’ve always used photo editing software (e.g.Photoshop) to design the office layout. The problem is that as I move all the desks around, it’s really tedious having to constantly re-type out who sits at each desk. Lucidchart has a great solution to this. You can link your Lucidchart document to a Google Sheet so that when you update the Google Sheet, it automatically updates the floor plan. This made it super easy because I started out with generic placeholder text for each desk (as you see above), and then once I had a layout I wanted, I could just move the names around in the Google Sheet and see how the floor plan looked.
I’ve gone through this process many times before (basically every time we hire anyone) using different tools and I can honestly say that Lucidchart made it much easier. I was originally just trying to come up with an excuse to use Lucidchart for the purpose of this review, but I definitely plan on using it for this use case in the future. I’ll also keep poking around to see what other areas of my life it can make easier.
Also, they have this nifty sharing feature so that I can embed the document directly in a web page. So here’s what I came up with (note: this office layout probably looks insanely crowded to you. It does get crowded with all the interns around in the summer, but this only shows about a third of our office, so there’s plenty of space elsewhere. We’re also planning on getting a much larger space next year, so we just need to make it through one more summer like this):
So now that I’ve explained what I did to test out the new version of Lucidchart, what are my final thoughts?
Overall, I had a very positive experience with Lucidchart. Here are the main things that really impressed me:
- The main thing I can say for Lucidchart is the same thing I thought seven years ago: it is cutting edge. When you use the editor, it shows you what the web is really capable of, and you don’t miss the old days of installed software at all. The nerd in me really loves that, but even non-tech people will still notice how slick the technology is.
- I already knew that it was really easy and intuitive for basic flowcharts, but I was impressed by how easily I was able to figure out some of the more advanced features (like drawing the floor plan and linking to the Google Sheet). Technophobes will probably still need a bit of practice getting the hang of things, but I don’t think it could be much easier.
- Lucidchart has come a long way since I first started using it in terms of support all kinds of different use cases. In the past I’ve hesitated to upgrade to the paid version because I don’t use flowcharts much. But now that I realize it can be used for all kinds of different things, it seems like more of a general-purpose tool. I hope that one day they offer a whole suite of productivity software, but it’s already impressive how many different things it can handle.
- The fact that it’s web-based offers some really nice advantages: specifically collaboration and sharing. I think it’s awesome that I was able to embed my document directly into this blog post, and it’s great that multiple people can work in a single document at the same time.
There wasn’t much I didn’t like, but in the spirit of giving a balanced review, here are some things that I think could be improved going forward:
- With all of the new features Lucidchart has added, it left me eager for more. Linking up with Google Sheets was really slick, but I can see that getting even more useful if it could be automated a bit more. Like, if I added a row in the Google Sheet and a new desk appeared in the document (rather than me having to copy/paste to make a new desk and link it to the correct row) that would take this to the next level.
- The vast majority of Lucidchart feels as good as or better than a native app, but there are still some places that seem more limited like a typical web site. For example, I have a“My saved shapes” panel that got cluttered, and it wasn’t obvious how to manage that. Right-clicking didn’t work, and I couldn’t click to select items and delete them (Less Annoying CRM has a similar feel, so I’m not really judging).
- Lucidchart can do a ton, but for some of the more specialized tasks, you’ll still want to use more focused industry-specific software. For example, if you’re designing a UI for your software product, you can prototype the design in Lucidchart, but you’ll probably want to make the final mockups in something like Photoshop. And it worked great for my office floor plan use case, but we’d probably want to use some kind of architecture software if we were trying to draw out precise blueprints for a new office build-out.
Overall, I was really impressed by the updates to Lucidchart. The technology is absolutely incredible, so the tech nerd in me is happy, but it’s also really easy to use, so the designer in me is happy as well. I think there’s still a lot they can do to improve, but they’re already way ahead of any other software I’ve used in this space. I expect that I’ll be using Lucidchart even more now, and I’m eagerly watching what they have planned for the future.
Want to discuss this review? Hit me up on Twitter @TylerMKing
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