I’m a sinner. Sometimes, I model using Microsoft Office tools (or the equivaent Google ones). In the last months, I’ve done some PowerPoint modeling and ended up offering to our users an Excel interface as “bot modeling tool” for Xatkit.

I can justify both despicable actions (see below) but the truth is that even myself, a true modeling believer, resorts to non-modeling tools to model sometimes. And of course, we see this much more often in the general developer/designer population. I think there is a combination of reasons that justify this:

  • Most people already have Office/Google tools and accounts, so there is no installation costs.
  • For the same reason, they are “free” as they have been already purchased by the organization. No need to buy new tools (with the long and exhausting paperwork this may imply in some organizations)
  •  They offer native collaboration (both sync and async) support. In our case, this one a key reason, all the modelers involved in the discussion were fully familiar with the modeling language we were using so even if the tool wasn’t helping with the semantics, we didn’t need that and good collaborative support was more important.
  •  There are plenty of integrations and add-ons to embed and combine your “models” with other tools.

Perhaps more surprisingly, this preference for drawing tools over modeling tools seems to be also the case even when some reasons above do not hold. See, for instance, this “simulation” of UML class diagram created with the Miro whiteboard collaborative platform that Pieter Van Gorp shared (love the creative use of the stars!).

UML class diagram in Miro

I bet in this case the key feature is the collaborative features that drawing tools offer, not so common in modeling tools. Probably these aspects also contribute:

  • Collaborative drawing tools are usually enough for what many people want/need
  • And conversely, collaborative modeling tools do not offer much more, meaning that they don’t exploit the semantics of the models to justify the effort of building consistent models in the first place
  • The user interface of drawing tools seems to be better. Of course, the fact they don’t need to worry about semantics allows them to focus more on the UI aspects.

So, while we know we should use modeling tools, we keep often resorting to drawing tools as they sometimes offer a better trade-off sometimes. This “sometimes” typically refers to people modeling blueprints of the system or interested in some kind of lightweight MDE.

And while the plethora of textual and online modeling tools should be the answer to the popular drawing tools, it seems there is still something not yet clicking. JetUML is a promising mixture of drawing and modeling but we need a tool that it’s at the same time collaborative, informal, and user-friendly. And probably with a generous free plan but this is a different discussion.

I’m curious to see how this market niche evolves. In the meantime, we can continue the discussion here or adding your thoughts to this ongoing discussion:

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