The Much-Maligned Database Designer

There’s a feature in SQL Server Management Studio called the “Database Designer”, and it’s a strange beast indeed. It’s a mix between a graphical database design tool and an Entity Relationship Diagram (ERD). Unfortunately, I don’t think it does either one of those things very well. You can find complaints galore on many blog sites, and also on There don’t seem to be any plans to change it soon.

But I still use it. Why? Well, for one thing –it’s all I’ve got!  Sure, I could buy something else that creates a proper ERD, or helps me design a database better. Visio used to be able to work well for this, but the “Professional” version will let you create a diagram but then not implement it or print out any details! (What’s THAT about?). The Enterprise edition of Visio will let you create a database, but it’s older and not everyone can afford all that just to do a database. Ditto with commercial tools.

So, I still use the tool. There are a couple of tricks I do, however that make the tool, at least a little more useful. For one thing, I add a lot of annotations on the screen, so that I can explain what’s going on. I would rather have the full IDEF1X syntax, but you use what you have. I also right-click and set a “Custom” view, and one of the columns I include is “Description”. This column will actually set an extended property called MS_Description that I’ve written about in the past.

So it isn’t a complete waste – it’s a way to communicate graphically about the design to the business and the developers.

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