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When Pen And Paper Fail You

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When the engineering team at your software company uses diagrams to share ideas, they’re building off of the oldest trick in the book.

People have been using drawings to communicate for at least 35,400 years. The world’s very first picture is of a babirusa that was once native to the area in Sulawesi, Indonesia—where this cave drawing exists. The species is unrecognizable to us today, but the message transcends tens of thousands of years. Pictures are an evocative and timeless way to talk to one another.

Now there are so many ways to share ideas through diagrams with tools and software—and they all still rely on the same basis of symbolism and imagination that has always made drawings work. But they also make it possible to communicate more complicated ideas that you can’t draw or share by hand.

In the 1980s, the internet made sharing and exchanging ideas possible in a whole new way. And with the rise of the internet came the development of technology that made it possible to easily create drawings and diagrams and share on a large scale. These tools make it possible to communicate ideas when pen and paper fail.

The rise of digital drawing

Over 30,000 years ago, drawings opened up the possibility to share ideas in a way that wasn’t limited by language or shared experience. Now technological advances are breaking down more limitations.

There’s more opportunity to communicate than ever before—the capacity to store and share information digitally has increased exponentially in the last 20 years. In the late 1980s less than 1% of the world’s technologically stored information was in digital format, and by 2014, it was 99%.

With greater capacity, there are also more tools. In the last 50 years we’ve developed many different ways to take drawing and diagramming to the digital space.

With every development, it became more and more possible for everyone to have the technology they needed to create and share digital drawings. Now what’s past is prologue. This rise of digital drawing systems paved the way for tools like Gliffy to change the way teams communicate complex ideas:


In 1963, Ivan Sutherland made an incredible breakthrough in digital drawing. As part of his Ph.D. thesis, he created the tool Sketchpad as a Graphical User Interface—before GUIs were even defined. His thesis was titled “*Sketchpad: A man-machine graphical communication system*,” showing that even the earliest digital drawing systems were conceived as communication tools.

Sketchpad was a computer with a light pen that allowed a user to draw directly on the monitor.


The system also allowed users to duplicate and store drawings at a 2000:1 scale. It allowed engineers and artists to automate drafting and drawing, but it also made it possible for people who didn’t consider themselves artists to reliably and accurately create drawings.

Sketchpad made digital drawing possible, but the UX still had a long way to go.


When Bill Atkinson and Apple released their raster graphics editor with the original Macintosh personal computer in 1984, they democratized digital drawing. Home users wouldn’t need a separate system or a special digital tablet to draw—with MacPaint, they could do it all on their home computers.

The high resolution of Macintosh computers made them a great interface for what was then a very advanced drawing tool. The clip art and building block packs that came with MacPaint gave the average personal computer user the ability to create high-quality images. This combination changed the way people could make and view digital drawings on their own personal devices.


In 1984, *The New York Times* called MacPaint “better than anything else of its kind offered on personal computers by a factor of 10.”


PCPaint, released in 1984, was inspired by MacPaint. However, unlike the black and white MacPaint, PCPaint supported color. It was one of the first graphical user interface tools for PCs that could be controlled by a mouse.


In 1984, Microsoft also released PCPaintbrush. While PCPaint saved files with the extension .pic, PCPaintbrush saved them as .pcx. PCPaintbrush eventually became Microsoft Paint, which was released in 1985 for Windows 1.0. It became one of the most ubiquitous non-professional drawing tools.


Later versions supported many different formats for users to directly save their images.


The fact that the word “photoshop” has become synonymous with photo editing is a testament to the enduring impact of Adobe Photoshop. It was first released in 1988 and has since become the standard for graphics editing in many professional industries.


Photoshop was a useful tool for editing images even before the popularity of digital photography. Though Photoshop gives users extensive control over editing and is a powerful tool in many creative fields, it isn’t the most user-friendly system and doesn’t lend itself to casual use.


From the 1980s to the early 2000s, photo sharing took some huge leaps forward.

In the 80s, both compact disk usage and email exchange became widespread. These were both excellent for quickly sharing digital images on a small scale. One person could give someone else a CD, or an individual could send an email with an image to several people.

Camera phones, memory cards, and DVDs became available in the 1990s, and Shutterfly launched in 1999 as a web-based photo sharing platform. In 2000, IMB began selling the first USB drives. These tools and platforms greatly expanded the scale of photo sharing.

While all of these tools helped people exchange photos with one another, none of them had a  centralized location where a user could create and share a drawing in the same place.

Easy-access software changes the game

When you want to communicate an idea to your team with a diagram, you don’t want to spend a long time learning how to use the tool. You don’t want to transfer it five different places to get it to the right person.

At the same time, you want it to look professional and to express your ideas clearly. Quality shouldn’t be a tradeoff for ease of use.

That’s where easy-access software tools come in. Tools like Gliffy give you the ability to harness the imagination and symbolism that enabled communication through the very first drawings. At the same time, it’s one of the most technologically capable tools, making it easy to share and scale.

By using the most advanced software, you can easily and intuitively express your ideas with the right building blocks, save in one place, and share through one platform. Here are the benefits of upgrading from pen and paper:


A 2012 study found that 1 in 3 people have difficulty reading their own handwriting. If one-third of people can’t read their own handwriting, how can they expect others to?

Diagramming on paper (or a whiteboard) can be a great way to quickly sketch out ideas for your own benefit. But when you want to share with others, you need to make sure what you’re drawing is legible and crisp.

Gliffy’s Layers feature lets you combine the ease of sketching by hand with the polished look that comes from using a digital tool. You can import a photo of your drawing, clean it up, and finalize it within Gliffy. Imagine you’re trying to have everyone on your team take this *Game of Thrones* character quiz that you sketched out—for very important company culture reasons, of course.

All you have to do is take a photo of your drawing or diagram and upload it to Gliffy. Then you can create a layer over the hand-drawn diagram, and drag and drop the shapes that match your drawing into the new layer. By using the visible/invisible button, you can check how your new layer lines up with your drawing.

Once you’re done, you can delete the drawing and have a clean digital diagram.

The digital version is easier to understand and navigate, and makes it much easier for the user taking the quiz to end up with the *Game of Thrones* character they match best—mission accomplished.


Whether you’re creating *Game of Thrones* character quizzes or diagramming the decision within an app to send a notification, it’s important to be able to show people what you’ve created.

Gliffy diagrams are easily shareable. Documents created on free accounts are public, which means a read-only version of the document is available to anyone on the internet and is indexed in search engines like Google. Gliffy also has options to help you share *only with specific people.* You can create private diagrams to protect sensitive information with your Paid Account.

By saving directly to Google Drive, you can share your diagram with other Google Drive collaborators. You can also privately share a Gliffy document by generating an unsearchable link. This lets you share via email, chat apps, and even in the middle of a presentation (hey, you have to do what you have to do).


Sometimes, one copy of your diagram is enough. But after a while, your team is going to get upset with you for making them all hunch around one piece of paper.

With Gliffy, you can not only create exact copies of drawings and diagrams, but also change their size and dimensions without altering the components of the diagram or the scale ratios.

This is one place where pen and paper definitively fail: in quickly and accurately reproducing images. By using a tool that lets you immediately recreate and adjust, designers and engineers can iterate faster and quickly turn the seed of an idea into a concept that people can execute on.


When you’re working on paper, many people can pick up pens and contribute to your diagram. But—if you’ll excuse the phrase—this can quickly get out of hand. You need a way to organize and manage collaboration.

Some projects, like presentations, benefit from collaboration. And if the thought of consolidating different people’s notes from 10 different folders or the prospect of chopping up and combining different decks makes you balk, don’t worry—you can just build your presentation in Gliffy.

With a team account, multiple users can create, edit, and save their diagrams for a project in one folder.


You can even adjust the editing permissions on your documents.

Gliffy lets you designate different levels of sharing, so each person working collaboratively on a project can do exactly what they need to.


If you’re running to a client meeting and you forget that one important piece of paper in the mess of papers on your desk, it’s probably not going to be a great day for you.

Using software that saves and shares your drawings eliminates that risk. You can access your diagrams in Gliffy from anywhere by simply going online—since it’s a web-based browser, you don’t need to download any software to use it or view your creations. And since you can export or save your work in several different formats, you have the option to save in a compatible format for wherever you want to open it.

Everything is stored on Gliffy servers, saving you time and the hassle of having to back things up. The kicker is that you can even access old versions of your work—Gliffy saves your revision history and keeps a record of your work every time you hit save.


Staring at a blank white page can be intimidating if you’re feeling uninspired or don’t know where to start. But Gliffy has a huge bank of templates and shapes to get you started. Just start dragging and dropping, and work your ideas out right on the page.

Once you’re rolling, there’s huge potential for customization and creative wiggle-room. Gliffy has features like drawing guides and lock shape to make the technical aspects of drawing with a tool easier, and it has colors, fonts, and a searchable collection of images to make sure you can create whatever you’re imagining.

The reinvention of drawing

Drawing with pen and paper isn’t a dead art. It’s just been reimagined for a new time with new technological capabilities.

Tech Crunch predicts,

Digital will never be a paper killer, but hardware and apps leveraging the latest technology advances are closing the gap with undeniable benefits in accessibility, efficiency and artistry.

Pen and paper will always be useful tools. They allow people to think and communicate visually. But diagramming technology makes creating and sharing simpler so that even those whose artistic skills are limited will worry less about *how* their drawings will look and will instead focus on what matters most: their ideas.

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