Taking the hassle out of large sitemaps with OmniGraffle Pro

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a fan of OmniGraffle. It’s fast, accurate, generates lovely documents (or is that me?) and there is a huge library of templates available at Graffletopia.

Making sense out of nonsense

I enjoy mapping large sites, making sense of out of what is often nonsense then using Omnigraffle to create a sitemap.

Crafting the finished product always takes time but that’s fine as you can see the end result. The most painful part is mapping the existing system and then getting it into OmniGraffle.

There are various ways to do this and everyone will have their own technique, but I discovered a very handy approach a few years back which takes a lot of the grunt work out of the initial discovery and data capture phases and getting the bare bones of the sitemap created.

Then you can invest your time and effort into making the map shine!

In addition to OmniGraffle you will need a copy of another OmniGroup product, OmniOutliner.

Fire up OmniOutliner and start working through your existing site in hierarchical fashion. The when you are done switch to OmniGraffle. You then open the OmniOutliner document and apply a diagram style to it. Voila! Your basic site structure is in OmniGraffle. Hardly rocket science is it?

Here’s the smart bit

Of course the smart bit is that if you spend a lot of time creating sitemaps in OmniGraffle you will probably have all sorts of different styles defined, including styles where you have compound objects.

A typical compound object for a sitemap node might include a node number, content type, wireframe template style and maybe just a simple box with a colour. (I usually colour code larger sitemaps to make them easier to see the different areas of the site.)

You can make these compound objects as simple or as complex as you like. I would advise to err on the side of simplicity.

Mapping from OmniOutliner to OmniGraffle Pro diagram style
Mapping from OmniOutliner to OmniGraffle Pro diagram style

When you open the Outliner document in Graffle Pro you can map data from Outliner into the compound object in the ‘Import Outline’ box. On the left are Style fields (from your diagram style) and on the right the Outliner columns (see screenshot left)

If you need to make a new compound Graffle Pro object for your map then do a trial run on a subset of your target data, don’t try it on the whole site at once.

Look at the bottom of my portfolio page over at Behance.net and you will see a compound object from a map created in this way

There are other ways of doing this sort of work, using AppleScript for example, but this is what I usually do and it works quite nicely. It can easily save several days on a large project.

We do not live in an ideal world

Of course in an ideal world it would be good to be able to write any amends you make to the Graffle sitemap into the Outliner document, but last time I checked with OmniGroup this wasn’t possible. You probably could hack a solution together to achieve this, but making it able to cope with every type of sitemap would probably be quite a task.

Once you have your map mapped you can then get down to organising it so it makes sense. Which is the interesting bit.




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