OmniGraffle for Bureaucracy

by William Van Hecke on March 9, 2007

Good day.

It took me a while to realize this, but almost every time I need to put some kind of stuff on a page, and it makes a difference where on the page that stuff is, OmniGraffle ends up being the best tool for the job.

Let me 'splain: OmniGraffle might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you need to fill out some official forms for the U.S. Government. Or, say, some character sheets for your weekend Dungeons & Dragons session. But it should be. Check this out:

  • Grab an electronic version of the form you need to fill out. Scan it if you have to, but most official forms are available as PDFs these days. Some of them even claim to be fillable, but I've never gotten them to work properly in Preview or Acrobat.
  • Copy each page from the document (in Preview) and paste it onto a fresh OmniGraffle canvas.
  • For each canvas, lock the layer that has the form on it, and create a new layer for your information.
  • Make text objects all over the canvas to fill in each blank. Once you have a text object you like, you can Option-drag it or paste it all over and just replace the text.

omnigraffle-form-fill-out.png

Why this is so much handier than filling out forms by hand:

  • You can use the alignment inspector and smart guides to make sure everything is lined up just right and perfectly legible.
  • If some of the boxes are really tiny, you can play around with the font to get everything to fit in there just right.
  • Filling out the same info over and over is easy: just copy and paste the existing text objects with the info you need.
  • Once you've saved the file, you automatically have a backup copy for reference or revision.
  • You can make an OmniGraffle template that has the right paper size, two layers per canvas, and a nice grid for keeping things orderly.

When I was going through the process to get someone a visa to live in the USA, this technique saved me heaps of time and stress. And now I have backups of every form (there are lots of forms involved).

Have you found any weird or unexpected uses for Omni apps? Maybe next time I'll tell you about how I'm using OmniGraffle as a level editor for a video game I'm working on…