Saturday, April 10, 2010

Comparing Sketchup and Floorplanner

Sometimes impressing people is the best approach to getting your way. You can measure, you can reason, you can provide data. But if you can show people a 3D model, they might just let you move all the furniture in the library. That's what happened to me.

(Actually, we had to move all the furniture, because G-Tech donated a block of children's computers, and they just wouldn't fit in our old space. But I still think the 3D model gave me a lot of credibility when I proposed a new layout.)

I used Floorplanner to do the 3D model, without really investigating my options. So I was wondering what else was out there, and guess what? Google has a similar program. Shocking, right? You know what's weird? That Google doesn't have a magazine. Oprah has a magazine. Mac has a magazine. Is it because Google believes all magazines will be rendered obsolete by some technology they are currently working on? Whoever they are? This worries me.

Anyway, I had to try it, and then I had to write about it, so here's my comparison:


This tool is easy to use, especially if you can't draw. With Flooplanner, you draw a 2-dimensional outline. Then, to add furniture, just click in the right spot, select a piece of furniture from a menu of icons, and enter the furniture's dimensions. Then just click a button to see your design in 3D (and pan!). However, you're limited in the number of floorplans you can create, and it would be difficult to enter unusually shaped furniture.

  • You don't have to download anything. Just sign up for an account online and do all your designing without leaving your browser. This also means you can access your floorplan from any computer without any extra steps.
  • You create your design in 2 dimensions, and as long as you enter data about the height of the walls and furniture, the program will generate a 3D simulation with a click of a button. (You can also skip adding height data and just look at everything in 2D. But that would be lame.) I found it easier to create a birds-eye view than to visualize the space in 3D the way you do in Sketchup.
  • There's an extensive menu of furniture icons that you can insert into your design--like inserting clipart in Word. You get to enter the dimensions, or just click and drag to make stuff bigger or smaller. You can also copy and paste to duplicate items of furniture. And you can drag them around with your mouse. If you can use MS anything, you can use this.
  • The program automatically creates a list of the furniture you're using. After you've entered an item of furniture on your floorplan it appears in a list underneath the design. So you are also creating an inventory of all the shelving and other furniture you have or want.
  • You can only save a few floorplans. Of course, if you're just redesigning your library, that should be plenty. But if you really love the tool, you have to pay to save more designs.
  • It's tricky to replicate funky-shaped furniture. You can draw furniture as opposed to selecting from the menus, but it's like drawing stuff in Photoshop, which some people are good at. My mouse hand starts spasming.
  • It's a little slow to load sometimes, probably because it's web-based and relies on Flash. Not the most powerful combo.
  • You can't get a really good model of the "look and feel" you're going for. You can place furniture and change colors, but somehow it still looks like the graphics for a '90s Sim game.

I feel like I've only scratched the surface of this program's capabilities. I found it difficult to draw everything myself in a 3D environment rather than selecting furniture from a menu, but once I figured out some tricks unique to the program, it was actually easier and faster to draw accurately. And if I learned a few more tricks, I'd have skills I could apply to other projects and no limit to the number of floor plans I could save.

  • Drawing accurately is easier in Google Sketchup. In Floorplanner, if you want to draw an object with exactly the right dimensions (which is sort of the point, right?) you have to draw it freehand (or freemouse) and then click on it once, click the "i" button for info, and then edit the dimensions. In Sketchup, you just click on your start point, drag the line a bit in the direction you want to go, then type how long you want it to be. The line will automatically click into place.
  • You can "fill" surfaces with digital photos of your actual wallpaper, carpet, etc. It still looks a little fake, but it allows you to better simulate your interior decorating. you can also fill with premade patterns and textures (check out the wood grain on my "shelves" below).
  • Everything's faster--zooming in and out, editing dimensions, dragging and dropping. Once you get the hang of things, you'll spend very little time moving the mouse incrementally in an attempt to get things just right.
  • You have to download and install the program. It's not like it takes that long, but it does seem like more of a commitment.
  • You really need the tutorials. When I tried to learn it by monkeying around, I ended up drawing a shelf underground. The tool icons aren't familiar and you have to draw in the 3D view.
  • There's no menu of furniture you can insert. You have to draw it all yourself. That can be tricky when you're trying to draw a curvy office chair. This is me trying to draw some shelves. I had to draw a 3D rectangle and cut out spaces for shelves.
  • You have to keep changing your view. Maybe this is just me. It's pretty easy to zoom in and out if you're using a mouse with a track wheel, but it annoyed me that the screen didn't automatically move sideways when I was trying to draw a line that went beyond my current view. I kept running into the edge of the screen, switching from the draw tool to the hand tool, moving my screen over, and going back to drawing. I also feel like 3D views just takes up more space and I have a tiny computer screen. And sometimes I'm grumpy.
In conclusion, Sketchup is powerful, while Floorplanner is accessible. Of course, I'm not the first person to review these tools. I like to think I'm giving you the perspective of an enthusiastic but only medium-tech-savvy librarian, but you can read excellent reviews of these and other tools on Lifehacker.


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  2. Sketch Pad is one of the hardest tools I have ever used. Spent a whole day to create a drawing with a hope that it will get easier and better as I learn. Then found Floorplanner and everything is working as it is supposed to.

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  4. Floorplanner is very, VERY good (but it could be great).

    It is intuitive (good) but unnecessarily fiddly (bad).

    This means you can do great work, but it is going to take you time and is relatively inefficient.

    The dimension control is just awful (want to get a wall / line at exactly 6m? Floorplanner has a wonderful knack of flicking between 5.99m and 6.01m) - until you zoom right in and get the software to do what it should.

    Half-millimetres (used extensively when say dividing 5, 7, 9, 11 or 23 by 2) - nope. You want to halve anything that has an odd number and you'll be stuck with choosing a round up or a round-down.

    Not really a problem, unless you'd like everything to match perfectly and what dream home needs the walls to be even? /sarc.

    And then there is the tendency of dimensions to suddenly change to default settings when switching between 2 & 3D.

    Walls set perfectly (at much painstaking effort). Save and come back later - walls at different heights.

    Yes. Very good BUT could have been great. So much wasted potential. 7 out of 10 but without those time-killing annoyances would probably score 11 out of 10.

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