Space-planning software is a helpful tool that can be a real timesaver when compared to the old paper-and-pencil standby; however, not all space-planning software is created equal. There are a few things you should look for ...
Does the software offer various facility and floorplan templates, or does it make you start from scratch? Templates are helpful and allow you to quickly modify and create your own floorplans. It's useful to select software that provides a variety of templates for many different types of facilities (e.g. a corporate-office layout, school floorplan, or emergency-exit plan).
Drawing to Scale
It's important that space-planning software enables users to draw and print to scale. Floorplans must accurately depict the size of real-world objects—including buildings, furniture, and appliances—in relation to each other.
Adding Objects and Photos
Make sure the software you choose offers a comprehensive selection of objects (e.g. walls, windows, doors, and other elements, like furniture) that you can easily insert into the drawing. You'll also want the ability to quickly move and rotate objects with your mouse or arrow keys. Some programs even allow users to create their own library of custom objects to reuse over again.
Adding photographs to your floorplans can be helpful, so this feature is a good one to look for. Not all space-planning programs offer this capability. Photos can transform an abstract diagram into concrete communication.
Some software tools display dimensions as you draw. For example, if you're drawing a wall, the actual length of each wall segment will be displayed above the line as you're drawing. This will help you draw a more accurate outline on the first try, and will reduce the amount of time spent editing.
Sharing Space Plans
What good is your fabulous floorplan unless you can share it with others? Make sure the software you select enables you to save your space plan in a variety of file formats, such as JPEG, TIFF, and PNG. Some programs enable one-click export to Microsoft® Office applications, such as Word, PowerPoint, and Excel, and even PDF format.
An Option to Try it First
You're not going to get a good idea of how well a space-planning software program will work for you just by looking at the box. Look for a software solution that enables you to try the program before you buy it.
Ken Roberts is director of market research at San Diego-based SmartDraw.com, a provider of space-planning software.