There’s a tendency for us engineers to make our diagrams and drawings how they look in our heads. The problem is, when I look at my diagrams I see everything that’s there plus some stuff I keep in my head. I also tend to ignore the aesthetics of the drawing because I’m more interested in the actual solution that I’m trying to depict rather than the picture as a whole.
Drawings that we make for ourselves can be a mess. They’re only going to be looked at by us so it doesn’t really matter. More often than not those drawings that we start to make for ourselves quickly turn into our working documentation for a project. Now we’ve got a totally different beast. Now we’ve got something that needs to be presented to change boards or managers for approval. We’ve got a document that other engineers, both present and future, will refer to in order to figure out why we did something.
Too often I get to these meetings or go to review some artifact document and things are a mess. There are several things that I think make drawings a mess, so here are some that I think are easy to avoid and will make your life easier when you’re trying to convey the concept behind the drawing to non-engineers.
1) If you can avoid lines crossing over each other, do so. I think this is my biggest pet peeve. Yes, you will have to take more time. Yes, you will have to “correct” the connector lines. They might even have to go to different connection points. You may even have to move things around to avoid crossing lines. Here’s a fun way to practice: http://www.neok12.com/games/uncross-lines/uncross-lines.htm
2) Don’t try to fit too much into one drawing. It sounds simple, but man I see way too many drawings that try to include EVERYTHING. Do a different page for each OSI layer. It will make your life easier and will make it much more simple to explain to non-engineering types. If you feel you must put everything one drawing set different elements to different layers.
3) Round corners. I don’t think people fully appreciate how much better shapes look with rounded corners.
4) Before you are finished with the document set a background. Even if it’s plain white it will make your presentation more clean. Connection lines will be much easier to follow without the grid pattern in the back.
5) Fill your shapes and use contrasting text colors. One of the best tips I saw (I think it was on http://www.visguy.com) was to set your fill color in your shapes to a strong color, change the lines on the outside to a shade of grey, and make the text inside white. It’s a simple thing, it takes but a second and people will compliment your drawings in meetings.
Here is an example of what not to do:
Things cross…everything looks the same, and the background is the default grid. This is what you get if you just draw shapes and use the connector tool. While this has become the norm I find it lazy and it won’t really impress anybody in a meeting. Remember, the ones in the meetings that care about how things look often are the ones in charge of your paycheck, so let’s try to impress them, shall we?
So in this example we still have lines crossing over, but that’s unavoidable with the topology. I thickened the lines so they don’t look so dainty, including the borders on the shapes. We changed the fill colors of the shapes, rounded the corners, changed the text to white, bolded the font, and changed the crossing connectors to “straight lines”. Much better looking.
So there are the first few tips. I’m sure I’ll have more. Hopefully they help.