Best software for diagrams & workflow mapping
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a diagram must be worth a thousand more. If you design or drive decisions at your business, a great diagramming software is a must. Visuals you create should be clear and easy to digest — use tools that makes it enjoyable.
I’ve spent 10+ years building countless system designs, workflows, processes, etc. As a product manager, I depend on software to share concepts with others and drive ideas forward. Three factors are extremely important to me whenever I evaluate tools:
- UX — Delightful software. Good use of keyboard shortcuts.
- Dependability — Software that works quickly, always.
- Easy-to-share — Software that you can export in many formats.
Here are my top picks and favorite use cases for each. My goal is to help you choose the software for your specific needs, without needing to sort through 100s of available options hoping to find one that works. These five options are tried, trusted, and time-tested.
https://miro.com/ | Free
Available online, or download as desktop or mobile app.
Miro is the collaborative whiteboarding tool. Create vast digital canvases filled with ideas, visuals, project plans, and more. Using the free version, you can host a board and have others contribute without signing up. Paid versions can equip your entire company with unlimited boards and cloud collaboration. Frictionless experiences for you and your coworkers may be its biggest strength.
Favorite use case: Create a sticky note canvas for flushing out new ideas. Assign each teammate to a specific color, then have them share ideas asynchronously. Hold a meeting to dive deeper.
https://www.omnigroup.com/ | $124.99 annually
Available as desktop app for Mac only.
OmniGraffle is a powerful diagramming tool with unlimited customization. ‘Graffle is part of a suite of tools by OmniGroup, a company that prides themselves on software designed to help you work more efficiently. I cannot speak enough about the software’s speed and ability to handle information. I have been able to create knowledge matrices with thousands of inter-connected nodes, and the software runs smoothly as it does with a blank canvas. Designers used to Adobe will feel at home with this interface and layering capability.
Favorite use case: Construct a network diagram for one of your key software systems and add technical documentation from engineering alongside each step. This creates a document that is not only easy to understand, but can be practically utilized for future training, or in case of employee churn.
Diagrams (fka Draw.io)
https://app.diagrams.net/ | Free
Available online, or download as desktop app.
Diagrams is the only option from this list that is free without limits. You can create as many diagrams and canvases as your heart desires, without ever paying a buck. It’s quick and easy to share with others to collaborate. Aesthetically, it’s clunky but it gets the job done. You can import to and from GitHub and GitLab, along with a half dozen formats for exporting. This is uniquely flexible and is one of the key reasons for its popularity among engineers.
Favorite use case: Hand off a new system design idea to an engineer. Create a high level rough diagram that you have mapped out in your head, onto a canvas. Export to XML or HTML and deliver it with your requirements. Your teammates can import into their software of choice and pickup where you left off.
https://balsamiq.com/ | $89 one-time license
Available as desktop app only.*
Balsamiq is the quintisential wireframing software. It’s a small, well-run company that has been around since 2008. It has a hand-drawn and comic sans-esque style that not only make the software super fun to use, every screenshot is distinct. What I love about it is that over-time, they haven’t tried to change too many things or add crazy features. The company has added to their portfolio, but Balsamiq Wireframes for desktop, looks and works today like it did when I started using it 10 years ago.
Favorite use case: Create wireframes for everything! Open a new document and add in pre-created elements to quickly mock up a new idea for your UI. Export the image and share it with your team.
*Balsamiq offers a similar cloud product for teams.
https://www.gliffy.com/ | $72 annually
Available online, or download as desktop app.
Gliffy is a diagramming software in a similar vein to Diagrams. It’s focused on cloud based solutions that convert to formats that engineers and other technologists can use. While it use to have a free version, they have invested into creating team-focused solutions and moved it behind a paywall — it’s worth the investment for a team. This software knows its audience well, by always adding icons and logos for common cloud products (e.g. assorted AWS services, like Lambda) and 3P providers popular in tech.
Favorite use case: Diagram your entire technical infrastrcuture. Share it with the stakeholders responsible for each part of your network; create the map together. Share more broadly once it’s done.