Painless alignment

Nick Sloan
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Joined: Mon Jan 07, 2008 10:36 am
Location: Somerset UK

Mon May 21, 2018 6:12 am Post

This subject has cropped up in various forms in various threads, but I felt it might be useful to make the case afresh.

Scapple is a (wonderful) app that by default involves connecting rectangular bordered boxes with straight lines. It does this very easily and neatly, and for my money the styling options are perfect. But, straight lines and boxes imply orthogonal layouts (think flow diagrams) and these look lousy if the boxes are just out of alignment.

I know that Scapple has a good set of alignment commands and I know that these can be invoked via shortcuts, but that is still a two-step process: form your rough diagram then go round straightening the furniture. How much more “Scapple” if the furniture defaulted to straight from the start?

Three simple improvements to the interface (all of which I believe have been suggested before) would transform this alignment thing from a perpetual irritant to a frictionless delight.

1) Basic: when moving or copying an object, press Shift to constrain to vertical/horizontal.

2) Support use of arrow keys to nudge selected objects vertically/horizontally.

3) More advanced: some sort of auto-alignment when creating/moving objects. Depending on what is simplest to code, this could be an underlying grid or an awareness of existing objects such that new objects (optionally) snap into alignment with them. Many drawing apps have this in various forms.

I believe that these features would transform Scapple for a lot of users.

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Mon May 21, 2018 8:34 pm Post

Scapple’s exhortations to stay sloppy just don’t always get heard, eh? ;) Really, it is a program meant to be messy with, but I do get you, and I do use alignment a fair bit myself, so I’m no one to talk. In fact I mapped alignment functions to my Touch Bar using BetterTouchTool:


Support use of arrow keys to nudge selected objects vertically/horizontally.

That one we’ve had covered from the start. :) Hit the M key to toggle movement mode on. Arrows will nudge notes in the cardinal directions; Shift+Arrows to move faster.

More advanced: some sort of auto-alignment when creating/moving objects.

To a degree, and in vertical alignment only, you do have this with the stacking feature. Hit ⌘↩ to make new notes and they will automatically be all lined up flush left. Horizontally you have the Notes ▸ New Connected Note ▸  submenu with its shortcuts. Granted those are connected, but selecting the whole row and hitting the Notes ▸ Disconnect shortcut takes care of that if you don’t want it.
Ioa Petra'ka
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Nick Sloan
Posts: 15
Joined: Mon Jan 07, 2008 10:36 am
Location: Somerset UK

Tue May 22, 2018 7:13 am Post

Thanks for the quick response Amber and thank you for putting me right about movement mode. I had forgotten about this, and it does address my 2nd request completely. (It seems a little odd that it is an optional extra: the targeting of notes in selection mode is a little haphazard, but doubtless some users depend on it.)

Yes we have New Connected Notes which align, but as you point out, we may not want them connected, or we may want them differently connected, and we may want to space them differently. I could live with the current compromises on this (and the align commands) if only we could have the commonly understood Shift-to-constrain which so many people have asked for, which would make so much difference to rearranging layouts, and about which you remain silent.

Sloppy versus formal is another conversation, and an interesting one. I understand the encouragement to forget about the form and concentrate on the content, but in practice, by making alignment far more difficult and command-based than it ought to be, Scapple is pushing people in the opposite direction. If it was all blobs and curvy lines misalignment would be less of a problem, but square boxes and straight lines invite neatness, especially if the results have to be presented elsewhere.

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Wed Jun 06, 2018 4:47 pm Post

Snap to grid would be a nice way to both align and clean things up a bit. I don't buy in to the idea that a scapple map should be messy. Some of us have a hard time letting that go. For me it is a physical sensation - like an itch I can't scratch - when things are not lined up nicely.