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Speed Up Your UX Work: Tables in OmniGraffle 6

by on November 25, 2014

OmniGraffle 6 comes with a new feature called Tables. If you use OmniGraffle for wireframing or creating mockups, this feature might come in handy whenever you want to graffle any sort of tabular data. A tabular view on data is a common requirement for enterprise software. Another use case would be the creation of repeating patterns. In Axure, these use-cases are realized using a Repeater Widget, but it is hard to find a similar function in OmniGraffle. Here’s how it works.

Be sure to check out my follow-up post about creating flexible stencils with tables.

Creating a Shape

You can’t create an empty table in OmniGraffle. Instead, you start out with a shape and make a table out of it.

Making a Table

Use cmd+shift+t or Arrange→Make table. You can create a table out of more than one shape at a time but they will huddle together and change their sizes. Now you’ve got your table, but the only thing that changed are the little table handles on the edges of your table.

Creating Columns

To create more cells, drag the handles away from the table. Here, I’ve dragged the right handle to the right to append a new column.

Resizing Columns

You can resize individual cells. If there were more rows below, they would be resized as well.

Adding Another Row

Before we add content, let’s add another row.

Adding Text

To add text, simply double click on a table cell. Adding and formatting text works the same as in any other shape. In editing mode, you can step through the cells with tab and shift+tab.

Adding Shapes

To add images, stencils or grouped shapes, paste them into a table cell as you would paste text. This handy but little known feature works on all shapes, not only tables.

Copying Rows

Drag the bottom handle of the table to copy the bottom row. This will help you quickly create large table views.

Resizing Table

Our table didn’t quite fit the window. Let’s resize it! This is where tables really shine. Also, the borders are not necessary so I just set the stroke property to “No Stroke” for the whole table at once.

Column Header

I have moved the column header to the middle. Uncheck the “Wrap to Shape”-checkbox on the type inspector to make the text flow into the adjacent cell.

All done!

And there we have it, a complete mockup. As you might have noticed, I’ve added some bells and whistles along the way, like different background colors for some rows. Tables make these things very easy.

Note that there are new menu entries under EditTables.

Also note that tables are actually fleshed out groups. In fact, you can ungroup a table at any time using cmd+shift+u. This is probably the reason why so many features that we know from other table-supporting software is missing in OmniGraffle. For instance, there is no way of reordering rows or columns.

Tips and Tricks

The tables-feature is not flawless. I’ve come across some issues and shortcomings. Here are my top 3 grievances and workarounds:

  1. Creating a table „post hoc“
    You can make a table out of multiple shapes but not grouped of items. This can stump you when you have drawn something that includes stencils and think „Great, now I need that 10 times in a row!“ Experienced grafflers will reach for the stamp tool and miss out on the handy table features. Table enthusiasts, however, will have to create a new table from scratch.
  2. Icon support
    Icons or other stencils are usually grouped shapes. Because groups can’t be made into a table it is somewhat awkward to include icons in your table. A novice may resort to arranging icons over the table but as soon as the table needs to be resized or moved, all the icons have to be moved as well. This is no way of living and robs us of one of the key advantages of tables. OmniGraffle has a little known feature though that makes tables support icons after all: text fields can contain shapes. Simply paste the icons (or any shape, really) into the cells in editing mode and you’re golden. I have shown this in the steps above. Be aware that the shapes can’t be changed anymore once they’re pasted. Positioning them correctly can become tedious. One solution is to give them their own column. That way, you can at least position them using the type inspector.
    This workaround is not without problems though. Oftentimes, the cell margins will change unpredictably. When that happens, try to edit a neighboring cell (i. e., add a random character, leave the cell, remove the random character). This can make the offending cell snap back to normal. Also, sometimes shapes will appear to be cut off at the edges. I have not yet found a satisfying way to repair that. Try emptying the cell and pasting the shape again.
  3. Cell management
    The OmniGroup people have been careful to avoid feature creep. They have left out a way to create single cells. This wouldn’t be so bad had they not included a way to delete single cells. My advice would therefore be: never ever delete single cells unless you really mean it. The only way to get them back is through cmd+z or ungrouping, repairing and remaking the table. Instead, empty the cells in editing mode.

From → UX & Design

3 Comments
  1. Marvin permalink

    Thanks for the helpful tips. The folks at Omni have quite a bit more work to do on tables to address some additional not-flawless behavior. If you delete the text of a cell with a white background, you cannot click to select the cell (but you can if it has a colored background!).
    Cell sizes arbitrarily change height. And, when I tried to make text span several cells, by un-ticking the ‘wrap to shape’ box, it made one column really wide, then (after trying again with multiple cells selected) it totally messed up the entire table!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Flexible Stencils with Tables in OmniGraffle | Minds
  2. Sketch vs. OmniGraffle in UX Design | Minds

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