Lovely Charts: Create Beautiful Diagrams

The Lovely Charts app hit the App Store on the 8th December. It takes a different approach to creating charts on your iPad, based on gestures, and tap and touch, rather than selecting from menus.

It has entered a fierce competition space, with the powerful TouchDraw and OmniGraffle being 2 such competitors. So can Lovely Charts live up to its name? And can it compete with the well established charting apps? Let’s take a look.

Design & Interface

Lovely Charts has a clean interface, and while you might find the lack of menus and buttons a bit disconcerting at first, once you start making charts, the reason for the absence of menus becomes obvious.

lovely charts diagrams view

The Lovely Charts' existing diagrams grid.

The whole concept of this app is based around using tap and touch gestures to get things done. The main diagrams screen is laid out in a scrollable grid, with the option to create a new diagram, and access to help being the only option.

You’ll need to study the help file carefully. Once you create a new diagram, you are presented with a virtually blank screen. The bar across the top of the screen offers a button to return to the diagrams screen, an export button, and a way to name your chart. That’s it, nothing else.

Initially, you might think the spartan look is a limiting factor. The truth is, after a while you won’t notice, you’ll just concentrate on making diagrams. Lovely Charts isn’t big on configuration options, but it doesn’t really need to be either.

Functionality

So as I said, there are no menus, floating palettes, or any other distractions to get in your way. You use your finger to draw a shape – you don’t even have to be that accurate! Just sketch it out.

You can choose to draw the shape you want, or, you can just choose to draw a rough square and change the shape type later. Lovely Charts will usually guess reasonably accurately at what shape you want, even if it’s roughly drawn.

lovely charts touch to draw

Drawing shapes with your finger.

Once you have a shape, a simple touch and drag with a single finger will move it. You can also re-size the shape with a single finger. As you move the shape, very helpful guides appear to help you align the shapes to an invisible grid.

Double-tapping a shape will let you add text to it. There are no options to format the text, you get what you are given.

Adding text to a shape

Adding text to a shape.

To change the type of shape you are using, a single finger touch and hold will present a menu. At the moment you can choose from a rectangle, circle, diamond, rounded rectangle, input/output, or a document shape. The developer says more shapes will be available in future releases.

Changing the shape type

Changing the shape type.

Dragging two fingers from a shape into empty space, will create a new version of the shape, and add a connector line between them. A single tap on the connector will provide an “i” button on the bar at the top of the screen. Tap that, and you will be presented with some formatting options for the connector.

Alternatively, you can two finger drag from one shape to another to create a connector.

A single finger touch and hold on a connector will produce a menu where you can choose from a straight, angled, or curved line for the connector.

changing the connector type

Changing the connector type.

Selecting a shape produces a colour palette button. The colours you can choose from are thoughtfully selected colour schemes. Tap the one you want, and it’s applied immediately.

The colour palette

The colour palette.

Selecting a connector can be a bit of a task. I discussed this with the developer, and he tells me that the “hit zone” will be bigger in the next release of the app. Getting it wrong can result in shapes jumping about out of alignment. There is no undo either, which makes life interesting if things do go wrong.

I found the simplest solution is too draw a “z” with your finger, through the offending shape(s) and/or connectors to delete them, then start again. The “z” thing by the way, is how you officially delete an object.

Deleting a shape

Deleting a shape.

Does it make up for a lack of an undo function? Well, many people are saying the app badly needs an undo. For me, I have just got used to deleting mistakes instead.

You can zoom in and out with a pinch gesture, and a two fingered touch and drag will move you around the chart.

You can export your charts via email as an editable .lcml format document that can be edited with the desktop version of Lovely Charts, or it can be mailed as an image. You can also export the chart as an image to your photo library. From there, it’s easy to add the chart as an image in say, a Pages document.

lovely chart example

An example diagram.

Performance

Leaving aside the “hit zone” problems when selecting connectors, the only other problem you might notice is that when zoomed in, selecting anything can become unresponsive. This is resolved by returning to the diagram screen and then going back to your drawing.

The app starts up very quickly, and even large charts load in an instance.

Drawing shapes and connecting them, moving around, and zooming, all work quickly and efficiently.

How Does Lovely Charts Compare?

There aren’t too many serious business charting apps in the App Store. One that will compete with Lovely Charts is called TouchDraw. TouchDraw has a larger feature set, and is designed to be more like a traditional desktop charting app, such as Visio.

TouchDraw has been around for much longer though, debuting in the app store in August, 2010.

Then there is Omnigraffle. Priced at over £30, it doesn’t seem fair to compare Lovely Charts with it. If all you need is a way to produce, quick, and relatively simple flowcharts, it will suit your needs well. OmniGraffle is aimed at business users with serious charting requirements, hence the huge price tag.

Conclusion

This is a very nice attempt for a first run iPad app. Lovely Charts provides a pleasant and natural way to quickly create simple and attractive charts and diagrams.

I like the way you use gestures and simple touch and tap routines to create shapes, connect them, and move them around with guide lines appearing for help with alignment. That is an essential feature for a charting app. It allows you to work in a very free and unconstrained way, and aids creativity.


Summary

Lovely Charts is an online diagramming application that allows you to create professional looking diagrams, such as flowcharts, sitemaps, organisation charts and others.

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