For Diagramming, Favor in-Document Editing

I made my UML Cheatsheet using OmniGraffle. I also used it for all of the diagrams in my book, Hello! iOS Development. It is an excellent diagramming tool that I recommend wholeheartedly, but I find that I can’t use it for my software project documentation.

All of my projects are documented in either Confluence, markdown files, or as source comments. The only way to use diagrams I make with OmniGraffle is to attach them somehow, usually as an exported PDF or image. When I read the document, this is fine, because the diagram will be shown inline.

But it’s missing two very important features

  1. I can’t make the diagram interactive. The main thing I want is for the various boxes to be links to the text documentation or other diagrams.
  2. I can’t edit the diagrams. I’d need to go back to OmniGraffle, find the source document, edit it, and then re-export it and get it to the document editor.

That second point is a deal-breaker for me to the point that I am dealing with diagramming software that is a lot worse than OmniGraffle just because I can edit the diagrams inline.

For Confluence, I am using the add-on [UPDATE: in Sep 2023 I moved to PlantUML]. Its main drawback is that it’s web-based, but of course, that’s the only way in-doc editing could work in Confluence. OmniGraffle is amazing because it’s a native desktop app written by one of the premier (if not THE premier) native macOS application development shops. I respect what the team has done in a browser, but it’s frustrating to use compared to OmniGraffle.

For Markdown, I started with MonoDraw, which is a native diagramming app that produces Ascii Art diagrams (good for embedding in source and Markdown), but again, not editable in the document. Once I saw that GitHub supported mermaid directly, I started to move over to it, even though it’s very limited. But I can make the diagrams I need (or close enough).

But, in-doc editing trumps everything for me. Without it, editing the diagrams has too much friction, and I risk them becoming out-of-date.