Jumping into Cacoo: A new user’s experience

You might know me as the “bot” that asks if you need help when you’ve been sitting on the Cacoo website for a while, but in daily life, people call me Ruchita. That’s right; I am a real person! And, I work at Nulab as the New York Customer Support Representative. As part of my entry into the company, I was challenged to create a project using Cacoo—the very program that I now help users navigate every day.

Named after the way the Japanese word for ‘draw’ sounds when spoken aloud, Cacoo is a presentation tool that allows people to creatively visualize their ideas using a variety of different templates. For all that the app offers, at first glance, it’s confusing, particularly when you believe for a split-second that there are no resources available to you. However, like any online web tool should, Cacoo does offer guidelines—you just need to know where to look for them.

One of these guides is called the Onboarding Guide, and if you’re a first-time user, it’s super easy to miss. See, Cacoo always starts you off on the Diagrams page, but what you should do if you’re a new user (and you know what’s good for you) is navigate instead to the ‘Get Started’ tab, which will look a little something like this:

‘Get Started’ tab

Once there, you’ll see a little guy holding a hammer, like this:

Onboarding Guide

The Onboarding Guide walks you through a pretty narrow scope of tasks to help you get to know your Diagram Viewer. It also shows you cool things that you can do on each page, such as share diagrams with your friends. A ‘features pop-up graphic’ more accurately describes the experience that this guy, his hammer, and his steps give you as you begin making strides towards Cacoo success.

When I started using Cacoo, I just kind of dove right in and regretted it pretty much immediately. After getting to know the diagram landing page, I clicked on ‘Create a New Diagram.’ This took me to the Diagram editor, which was…a lot. The graphics were pretty different from what I am used to seeing on websites these days, and they were also pretty tiny.

I went into Cacoo not having the faintest idea of what I wanted to create. The pop-up that prompts you to choose a template right away was, therefore, a little intimidating because there are so many different categories, and within each of those categories are at least four template options. To get the most out of Cacoo, you should probably know what you want to create from the start. But if you’re a person who shirks the responsibility of making choices, as I often do, you might follow in my footsteps and choose all of the options (which means trying out a template from every single category available):

diagram tabs

Looking around at the blank page I (not) so-smartly chose for the first sheet of my diagram, I couldn’t find any immediate guidance about how to get started. So I clicked on the Help button. A drop-down menu expanded showing a whole bunch of keyboard shortcuts. That was cool. The only thing was, all of the shortcuts were written for Windows Users, and if you’ve spent any time working with both Mac and PC, you know that their keyboard shortcuts are slightly different. Luckily, there were very few unsolvable differences, and most could be remedied simply by switching the Ctrl key for the Command key on the Mac. I brought up those that I thought needed a concrete fix to the staff—particularly, the fact that there’s no easy shortcut to navigate between sheets on a Mac since they don’t have Page Up and Page Down keys. We can now expect to see directions for both Mac and PC users in the future.

The first thing I decided to do with my diagram was title my presentation. I clicked the textbox button, and then I noticed that an information box popped up in the lower-right corner that provided more information about what I could do with that text box.

information box

As I played around with the features, this little box came up every time I clicked something new, be it one of the buttons in the top menu or some attribute within the diagram:

information box

This was super helpful, but I do wish it were more noticeable. When it first started happening, I didn’t even glance at it. Although I knew it was happening in my peripheral vision, I assumed it was similar to the box that appears at the bottom of a browser that tells you whether it’s trying to load a page or not.

That being said, once I realized those tips were there, I really got going. Here are a few specific things I quickly took to:

  • Although finding the specific stencils I needed was difficult, actually using them was pretty easy.
  • Image manipulation (resizing, rotation) was also pretty intuitive, and even moving the images went a lot more smoothly than my experience on other applications, where moving an image a millimeter results in every other component of the space getting moved around/catapulted into space.
    • Unlike word processors that only allow users to express themselves with extensive font collections and style elements, Cacoo wants users to be able to express themselves visually. In basic terms, this means that I didn’t have to look through a drop down menu to try to decode whether making the image fall in front or back of the text would give me more leeway.
    • As I write this, I realize that Cacoo is sort of like my favorite application on my dad’s PC growing up, Paint, only with more grown-up and useful presentation features.
  • The Venn Diagram template is BEAUTIFUL. There’s a perfect transparency element to each of the circles that allow you to customize the colors according to your personal preference, and a combined color is created where the Venn Diagram sections overlap.
  • The greeting card maker was pretty fun. And I liked that even though my card only took up 1/10th of the white space on the Cacoo diagram, the exported file showed my card taking up all of the space! It was a nice way to navigate around doing a hypothetically terrible crop job on my own in Paint.
  • I was also pleasantly surprised by the organization chart. I like that you can reorganize blocks without having to reconnect the lines if you don’t want to. I also love the grouping tool in this context. You can’t possibly know the amount of hours I’ve spent meticulously trying to resize every component of a diagram to be identical to the other parts—but mark my words; it was a lot. This tool is a time saver.

That’s not to say that the whole experience was smooth sailin’. For instance, I was working on a small screen, and I was kind of overwhelmed by the fact that I couldn’t see any end to the amount of whitespace in the Cacoo window. I was informed by other members of the staff that in contrast to what I believed, there were visible edges to the white space—the beginning size of the Cacoo diagram was just so big that I couldn’t see them on my tiny screen. I experienced another hindrance when I attempted to split my screen between Cacoo and my word processor to take notes for this post. The ‘Help’ ‘Export’ and ‘Property’ buttons all situated themselves over the zoom function like this:

top menu

At this point, not only was the editor tiny, but I also couldn’t zoom in easily! Score.

But this is a small grievance; after all, Cacoo is meant for full desktop use where people are fully committed to their projects, not furiously taking notes on the nuances of their own experiences like a narcissist.

In fact, once you get the hang of it, you can make some pretty cool things, like hypothetical seniority charts of how management works in later seasons of the Office, office layouts that make people feel claustrophobic, and mind maps dedicated to outlining the main themes of your dreams. Or you could, y’know, use the tools for something useful.

So, here are my main takeaways:

  • I think the onboarding guide could be improved in a few ways. In order to fulfill its destiny (guiding), the onboarding guide should exist beyond the initial diagram list page, and continue to guide the user as they navigate to the diagram viewer and editor. Maybe the first time users go through the program, the onboarding guide should prompt them to do things like put a title on the first page of a diagram or even to label the specific pages of a diagram, so you know the theme of each page. Since this exercise, I have actually collaborated on an onboarding blog post to help new users familiarize themselves with the Cacoo experience.
  • The drop-down ‘Help’ menu could use some tweaking to make it more useful to both Mac and PC users (I know for a fact that this one is being fixed so I’m not worried.)
  • There are so many stencils that finding the ones you need can be challenging, so a search tool would be awesome!

Cacoo is for creators that have a vision and aren’t afraid to show it. As of now, you can get the most use out of Cacoo if you have an objective that narrows your choices down to specific template folders, templates, and stencils.

There is a lot to look forward to when you sign up for Cacoo. If you find the current features cool, you’re going to want to stick around for when the Cacoo editor gets a full makeover later this year. I, for one, am super excited to see what updates Cacoo has in store.

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