Why Figular?

A homemade pen plotter draws a circuit on copper. Source image ‘Motöri the Plotter’ (link) by svofski (link) is licensed under CC-BY-2.0 (link).

I’ve been working on Figular for several months now. With the first release approaching it’s time to explain the problem it’s trying to solve.

Whenever I have to produce a document my heart sinks at the thought of the process. Creating the content is hard enough but trying to make it look good involves messing around with Word Processors, drawing and presentation software that I don’t use often enough to be efficient. Instead of this I wish I could:

  • Write ALL my content in plain text. Not just the words but the pictures, the diagrams, the charts and any other content I need. Everything!
  • Run a tool over all that plain text and produce a beautiful document.

Let me explain.

Writing in Plain Text

I spend most of my day working in text: writing emails, editing source code and documenting in markdown. Plain text is old and it’s trusty. There’s support for it everywhere: anyone can create it, it can always be read, it’s easily stored, it ages well and you can compare changes to it over time.

Can we use plain text for more than just the written word though? Can we describe an org chart with it, a floor plan, a chart or an infographic? If we could then we’d bring all the advantages of plain text to the kind of visuals that are traditionally locked up in special applications and formats.

Some tools already exist in this space but I’ve yet to find one that can deal with any kind of visualisation or make it part of a bigger document without requiring several tools in combination. These tools can also have a high learning curve or require so much effort that they are not suitable for casual use.

Producing Beautiful Documents

Word Processors make it simple to style documents that only consist of titles, text and images. However if we need to incorporate other elements such as diagrams and charts then keeping the style consistent can be a challenge. If we want to change a title font for example we need to make that same change in every diagram and then maybe import them back into the document again. I’d like style changes to be applied consistently throughout all elements.

Layout may also need to be tweaked as content changes. This is a particular problem with horizontal layouts. A set of paragraphs laid out in individual columns to fit a page might need manual adjustment if we later want to add or remove one. I would like the layout to cope with these kinds of changes automatically so I do not have to continually intervene to preserve a look.

A page with four paragraphs laid out in separate columns. How easy is it to add a fifth?
A page with four paragraphs laid out in separate columns. How easy is it to add a fifth?

How do we arrive at a good design in the first place? It might be something we’ve not had the time to skill up on or we’d rather avoid doing. Conversely we might be good at it and want to share our talent. If we can reuse, share and collaborate on design then we all save time.

Figular’s Challenge

This is the challenge for Figular - to be a tool that can answer these needs and be used by anyone, without specialist knowledge.

If you’d like to help then check out the first version when it arrives and let me know your thoughts. To find out more you can follow us or get in touch via our contact details, thanks.