Create Diagrams and Collaborate Easily With Cacoo

There’s many times you might need to make some sort of chart or diagram. Lots of people really like to mind map, web and app designers have to make wireframe layouts of design and interface ideas, and business workers might need to make charts to explain facts and figures to clients and co-workers. There are plenty of full-featured and affordable desktop options for making such charts, so why look for an alternative web app?

Social features and sharing are where diagram-making web apps really start to show some unique innovations and Cacoo, the app I’ll be reviewing today is no exception. Cacoo is an online chart/diagram/wireframing tool. Within the app you can use templates or create your own project from scratch using a number of advanced features. You can then collaborate on the project with some co-workers or share and export it to show clients. It’s a handy app with a mile-long feature list, so stick with me to learn more about Cacoo and whether it’s worth using or not.

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Creating

Cacoo is an app dedicated to making charts and diagrams for a variety of purposes. Let’s start by exploring some of the tools that Cacoo provides to make your own charts. When you first log in, you start out on your home screen where you can edit existing projects and add new ones.

My personal home screen, with my in-progress projects.

When you start a new project you can choose to start from scratch or use one of Cacoo’s many pre-made templates. The templates cover a variety of project types, but of course starting from scratch affords you the greatest flexibility when making your own charts.

A sample of the template options..

Cacoo uses a simple drag and drop method for adding and arranging stencils. Start by picking the stencil you’d like from Cacoo’s many categories and then drag it into your work area. You can move it around or use the line tool to draw lines connecting various dropped stencils.

The stencils for use in the app.

In addition to placing stencils, you have a lot of control over how the individual stencils appear. A handy inspector is used to make any needed edits to your stencils. Adding custom text is probably the most used feature in the inspector. You can choose the font, size, color, alignment and more.

Editing text in a stencil.

You can also edit the color of objects, from basic shapes to office furniture pieces. You simply click on the object and use the inspector to determine the type of color – solid or a two color gradient. You can also add drop shadows from this menu.

Adding a gradient to my stencil.

The section of the inspector that’s really important for your project layout is the transformation and moving section. This is where you can type in exact numbers for the position, flip the object along the x and y axis and more. It took me a while to figure out how to flip objects and it was incredibly frustrating so take note of this tucked away menu.

The movement section of the inspector.

It’s also worth noting that you can add images from other sources. You can upload images and SVG files from your computer or take and insert a screenshot. This menu also allows you to insert templates from Cacoo into your project.

The menu to insert images.

While there are still lots of small features to use when editing, I’ll leave them for you to discover. With some practice and perusal of the available stencils, you can make some pretty stellar-looking diagrams. It just takes patience.

A wireframe example utilizing a variety of the stencils available in the app.

Sharing

Creating a diagram on your own is well and good, but no different than what you could do with a desktop application. The ability to collaborate with team members in real time is part of what makes Cacoo stand out. You can add team members to the project and then work together in real time. You can add/edit pieces and notes as well as use the chat function to brainstorm. It’s this unique feature that makes Cacoo so useful.

The chat screen.

Even if you don’t want to collaborate in real time, the ability to share the diagram is absolutely necessary (and the share menu is actually where you invite people to collaborate). You can utilize the in-app share menu to send emails with custom links and messages to anyone you want to invite. The share menu also keeps track of which registered users are collaborating on the project.

Sharing options to collaborate with others.

If you want to share your project without actually having to allow anyone to make edits, you have to export first. With a default, free account, export options are limited to just PNG files. With an account upgrade, you can export PDF, SVG, PNG, PS and PPT files for a decent amount of flexibility. You can also print from the export menu.

The various export options.

Paying

Unfortunately in life, as we see above not all good things are free. Cacoo has a free user account but also offers two paid upgrade options with a variety of additional features. The basic user account has a collaborater cap, a limit on folders and projects created and the export limits but costs nothing. The plus plan is for a single user and costs $4.95/month. It offers unlimited projects/folders, editing history shown on projects and unlimited collaborators. A team plan is also available, with increased costs for various numbers of team members. This account type offers all of the plus features, as well as user management and multiple admin accounts. All accounts offer a 17% discount if you pay the annual cost, rather than a monthly fee.

The 3 types of Cacoo accounts.

Cacoo also has some other items for sale. The templates and stencils in the app are generally completely sufficient. If you need something else, however, Cacop has numerous templates and stencils available in their store. Of course, most of the templates and stencils in the store at this time are free, so make sure to check it out if you can’t find what you need to make the perfect diagram.

Browsing stencils in the Cacoo store.

Critiquing

I liked using Cacoo – for being a web app it has a whole lot of features which is nice. I was able to be just as picky as I wanted and Cacoo enabled me to make some really nice-looking final products. I thought the sharing and collaboration tools were pretty on point, and I appreciated the various file types that can be imported and exported within the app itself.

Of course, Cacoo isn’t all good. The app is really quite hard to use when you start out and there’s not much of any help along the way. The interface is cluttered and it’s quite hard to tell what all of the tiny buttons are supposed to do. Cacoo could definitely stand to clean up the interface and to add some in-app help, especially for the first project you create. Some interactive guides to show you where the important features are would really help to make Cacoo more useful for the first-time everyday user.

All in all, I liked the app. Once I adjusted to using the application, it was thoughtfully created and served its purpose quite well. I thought it was a great tool and even with a steep learning curve it’s a nice tool to have on hand. I recommend, of course, trying out a free account and deciding where to go from there.

And what about you? Have you tried Cacoo? Did you love it or hate it? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


Summary

An online chart/diagram creator offering tools for individual users, shared collaboration and teams.

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  • Krishna

    Hi,

    The app looks Okay and the price is also reasonable. I will try it thanks for the large amount of info.

    Krishna

  • Leo Saumure

    I’ve been using Cacoo for quite some time now. After coming from MS Visio, I found the app was just the right mix of features and ease of use. I have made several diagrams, from simple flow charts to high level, multi-layered office design charts. I have even used it to create a couple logos.
    I have a podcast where I reviewed it if you would like to have a listen: http://nfptech.wordpress.com/2012/07/12/a-picture-says-a-thousand-words/

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