Sunday, December 30, 2007

SmartDraw 2008- A First Look

It is becoming increasingly clear that there is a real need in today's society for students and individuals to become more adept at both understanding and creating visual graphics that depict information using graphs, mind maps,
charts, and pictographs. We are all bombarded with all kinds of information and data that is much more easily digested when put into a visual or graphic form. Many of us were first introduced to these type of graphics in the USA Today. It certainly was a point of departure from other newspapers as we learned how to decode the meaning of these artistically created graphs and charts that appeared in the paper. For many, it was a new way to digest information and make sense of an enormous amount of data in a condensed format.

But what tools are out there that can help students, educators and business people create well designed graphics without the need to be a professional graphic artist. While there are a number of applications that come to mind for creating educational and business graphics all assume some degree of artistic ability which may not be the case. One application which I was recently introduced to called SmartDraw 2008 takes a very unique approach to designing your presentation graphics. Using both templates and wizards you can produce professionally looking graphics within minutes of opening the application. SmartDraw 2008 is a Windows based application that will run on Vista, XP or Windows 2000. Before I write about SmartDraw 2008 I would like to thank Laurence Favrot, from SmartDraw for providing me with a copy of SmartDraw 2008 to review. SmartDraw 2008 is a comprehensive business and educational graphics application that supports creating the following types of graphics:

  • €Flowcharts
  • € Org Charts
  • € Project Timelines
  • € Gantt Charts
  • € Marketing Charts
  • € Bar Graphs & Pie Charts
  • € Forms
  • € Floor Plans
  • € Scheduling Calendars
  • € Mind maps
  • € Mapping applications
  • € and much more.
SmartDraw 2008 unlike other applications has you start with the end point in mind as you first select the template for the graphic that you are going to create. For the purpose of this demonstration I have decided to create a timeline. So first I select the Timeline SmartTemplate from the list of available templates. Once I have selected the a timeline template, I am presented with the template on the screen and can now use the SmartPanel to add individual
elements to my timeline. Setting the timeline's start and end times is easy to accomplish. I found the the process to be very intuitive and straightforward. If you do need assistance you can click on the Help icon and the Smarthelp panel will open to guide you through the process. One of
SmartDraw's strengths is the way it formats the graphic for you creating color styles and schemes that always produce professionally looking graphics. By simply selecting the timeline element I can apply a consistent color theme to my timeline with a click of the mouse. Because it is so easy to do you can easily test out different color themes to see what the results are
before printing out your graphic. Another strength of SmartDraw 2008 is its tight integration with Microsoft Office. With a click of the mouse I was able to transfer my timeline to Microsoft Word. For that matter I could have sent it to Excel, PowerPoint or saved it as a PDF file to share with others. SmartDraw 2008 has an extensive library of graphics to choose from which I was able to use to adorn my timeline. For someone who was new to SmartDraw 2008 I quickly became comfortable with the Smart Template and SmartPanel approach as was able to complete the timeline rather quickly.

There are hundreds of SmartTemplates to choose from when you first launch the
program, which gives you lots of starting out options. I did take a look at the mind mapping options in SmartDraw 2008, which is a new feature. While SmartDraw 2008 does give you the option to create and print mind maps it is not an ideal tool if you are planning to use your mind maps to manipulate or organize your information.

One of the new features of the latest upgrade to SmartDraw 2008 are LiveMaps
which lets you pull live map data off of the web and include it in your graphic. Using the Tele Atlas maps you can zoom in and select satellite view or hybrid views. I found it very easy to integrate the maps into my presentation graphic- and it is certainly a powerful feature that has been included in SmartDraw 2008.

Overall, I found SmartView 2008 to be an easy to use application for creating professionally designed graphics without the need to be a graphics artist. Using the system of SmartTemplates, SmartPanels, and SmartHelp moves you through the process of designing your graphic with all the right scaffolds in place. It is nice to know that the supports are in place if you need them or if you are more inclined you can manually design your graphic. If you are looking for one drawing program to help you communicate information in a professional manner then I would suggest you take a look at SmartDraw 2008. With SmartDraw's large SmartTemplate and graphics library I'm sure you will find a place for SmartDraw 2008 in your presentation toolkit- I know I have! If you are interested in trying out SmartDraw 2008 you can download a trial version from the website.

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