Time-based diagram build for a presentation – best method?

Hi there,

I’m a experienced graphic designer but new to OG, and most diagramming software.

I’ve made a couple of organisational diagrams for my client – quite graphically rich rather than just dry hierarchical tree diagrams.

My client and I want to be able to present these as presentations that build sequentially – first one block appears, representing one part of their business, then another, then lines and arrows linking various parts and so on.

The presentation needs to be transportable and shareable (it can’t depend on the user having omnigraffle) so I’ve ended up adding each build stage as a separate layer, turning visibility on or off, then making a pdf export for each page of the presentation. In Acrobat, I then stitch the separate PDF files together and – voila – my client can take their presentation anywhere.

However, this is clunky as hell from my end and as soon as edits are required or new build stages need to be inserted, I have to export the whole sequence again from scratch. It’s a fifty-something page PDF.

Am I missing some key functionality that will make my life easier here? Or is Graffle just not the right tool?

Could there a better workflow if I use Graffle in conjunction with another tool for example?

Sorry – I can’t think of a better way to ask this question without knowing more about the software itself.

I have a very similar need, and in several different applications.


  1. I would like to say, no problem at all, doing all that in OG. But they keep removing features, so I have problems doing that in OG 6 that I did not have in OG 4. Eg. Layers are badly broken after OG 4, and that interferes with this task.

  2. Understandably, it is clunky, only because you are new to the tool. I do all that in OG and I would not touch Adobe anything if you paid me. A single 55-page PDF as the final output, is the way to go (but wait for it).

Creation & Maintenance

When you need to create and maintain the Diagram (not the PDF).

  1. For reasons that should be obvious, yes, draw the entire sequence on one canvas. Among other things, this allows you to ensure that the final 55 pages present in perfect sequence, without any visual stagger.

  2. Each final page on a separate ordinary layer is correct. Therefore your working diagram is one canvas with 55 layers (one perhaps 1 or two shared layers).

This is a permanent diagram: when you have to make changes, this is the one you change. (I didn’t say static, I said permanent.)

Document Production

When you need to produce the 55 page PDF file (from the single canvas Diagram).

  1. Duplicate that one canvas 55 times, once for each final page. You now have 55 canvases, one for each final page.

  2. Now go through each page.

  • Turn off each Layer that does not apply, such that the visible layers in each single page form the step (result page) in the sequence, correctly.

  • This also allows you to place an unique title and page number on each page, automatically.

  1. Export EntireDocument as PDF. The result is a single PDF file with 55 pages.

Optimisation Etc

A. Once you have done that a few times, and built up some experience in OG, you will learn ways of optimising the diagram (one canvas, one page), quite naturally. Eg. dealing with the layers, such that the diagram has say 32 instead of 55 layers (and continues to produce 55 pages).

B. Here the duplicated “shared layers” (schizophrenia by another name) becomes a problem, and you will tear your hair out. Even the label is confusing: any layer is “shared” as long as you copy-paste it into a canvas. But they have white layers and green layers, that behave like kids playing in the traffic.

OG 4 Master Layers worked perfectly (no duplicates producing unintended results that you have to hunt down and kill, no schizophrenia). Eventually, hopefully while you still have a few follicles intact, you will figure out how to minimise (unfortunately not eliminate) the horrendous effects of duplicates.

C. Since God has Graced me with the normal human revulsion of duplicates, and as prescribed by the great Dr E F Codd (1970), I never duplicate anything. (The duplicated “shared layers” cannot be avoided, it is forced upon the sane by the insane.) What I mean is, I never duplicate any shape or object (Group of shapes to form a complex shape) in the diagram. If you do, you create a maintenance problem where there was none: when the object has to be modified, you have to change it in 3 or 5 or 55 places. Cut-paste may be fine, but then you have to reconnect any lines that are attached.

  • Therefore, duplicate at your own risk, and with the guarantee of finding out the hard way.

The Hierarchy

Hierarchies are normal in the natural universe, and they are the best way to present data, because the human mind understands them immediately, and explanation can be avoided. But there are two problems.

In the modernist idiocy that we live in, hierarchies are suppressed. The result is, the understanding of hierarchies, and how to present them (as distinct from the recognition and understanding upon receipt), is lost in history. Except for oldies like me.

  • The point is, learn to present information in terms of:

  • an hierarchy

  • the hierarchy that the data naturally occurs in

  • because it is the best way to understand that data.

  • The main reason is, hierarchies maintain Context, and nothing else does. And Context gives meaning, which fosters comprehension.

  • If you do not do that (ie. you present information in some form other than an hierarchy, and specifically the hierarchy in which the data occurs in the natural universe), then Context is lost, and you will struggle to transmit meaning.

Two Layouts

  1. The most common Layout in which hierarchies are presented is also the most demented: the upside-down tree, or Organisation Chart. Demented for many reasons, the most obvious being that it requires masses of real estate, and has limits along the horizontal (resulting in having to mess with the tree, to fit the canvas, and then the messed objects are not hierarchic).

  2. The alternate Layout is far, far better. It is the Explorer pane in any good PDF reference manual (the OG manual is great, and an example of OG, but it is not a reference). Think, a 100- or 500-page PDF, its Table of Contents. That is laid out in an hierarchy, with indentation (ie. not left-justified). Or in the Explorer pane with Expand/Collapse buttons. Or the left pane in FileManager. Or Finder in List mode with Expand/Collapse triangles.

Point is, if I were you, I would present the chart in Explorer Layout, complete with the rich graphics, in sequence.

(I have a third, even more superior Layout+Method for presenting complex and technical information, but that is commercial.)

Good hunting.

Okay, I think I understand. Each layer should be a shared layer so that I need only change elements on the first canvas and they’ll be reflected on each of the subsequent 54 canvases? (barring the idiosyncrasies you mention).

I’ll give it a go and report back.

Thanks for all the insight too, it was an enjoyably ranty read :-)

I improved the formatting for clarity.

[quote=“anthonynoel, post:3, topic:26758, full:true”]
Okay, I think I understand. Each layer should be a shared layer[/quote]

Not a shared layer, an ordinary layer.

Later, at the optimisation stage [A], you can make reasonable decisions re shared layers, and what objects (not all !) should be moved to them. Such that you have a few carefully chosen shared layers.

The main activity will remain in the ordinary layers.

Not “first canvas”, but one canvas, all the way until the last step.

They will “be reflected” on 54 canvases because, at the Production step, you duplicate that one canvas 54 times. Therefore duplcated is accurate, reflected is not. They are 55 physical copies.

[quote]I’ll give it a go and report back.

Thanks for all the insight too,[/quote]
My pleasure.

If you email me, I will send you an example of about 9 pages, created exactly as above.

I take it you believe in democracy, the tooth fairy, etc.

Thanks Derek. I‘m going to try your method, but I’m still struggling to see how working through 55 canvases turning individual layers on or off is better than turning individual layers on or off on just one canvas is. Is the only advantage that we do the PDF export once rather 55 times?

You are welcome.

Basically, yes. But that is certainly not the “only” advantage.

Pages 2-56 are disposable, they exist only for the duration of Document Production, for the purpose of creating the PDF.

You have three choices.

1. Your method:
Draw one canvas, 55 layers
Repeat 55 times:

  • Turn layers off/on
  • Export 1 page to PDF

Acrobat (switch to PC, transfer file ?):

  • Stitch 55 pages
    Page titles & nos: auto; manual ?
    Result is one PDF file of 55 pages

2. My method:
Draw one canvas, 55 layers
Repeat 55 times:

  • Duplicate Canvas
  • Turn layers off/on (once per canvas)
    Automatic Page Titles & page nos
    No PC, no file transfer
    Less mistakes turning layers off/on (redo is eliminated)
    Export EntireDoc to PDF (one PDF file of 55 pages)

Instead of duplicating & turning layers off/on, create a new canvas, and move only the master layers and one (result page) layer to the new canvas. Repeat 55 times.

3. Optimisation:
(Don’t try this until you have some experience with OG, and with [2], so that you understand the limits that you have to work within).

Same as [2], but with fewer than 55 layers; some shared layers, and perhaps 2 or 3 Drawing canvases.

The main advantage here is that you can draw far more elaborate diagrams or presentations than at [1] or [2]. I would say a different class of presentations. That is hard to describe, but easy to show in an example. Things that you cannot dream of at [1], that start becoming obvious when you have done [2] a few times.

Layers are important for drawing, period, not only for the type of use that we are discussing here. Eg. in a simple flat diagram, I generally have at least 4 layers (plus 12 shared layers due to OG madness). You become a better, faster, diagrammer when you use more layers. So when you gain experience and you understand that (which is not possible now, as a OG newbie), you might end up with 30 layers for 55 pages.

But if you remain in the scope of [1], you will never learn the capabilities and advantages of [2], and therefore never achieve [3].

Read this post again, one year from now, and you will see what I mean.