Best Practices to Follow for Flowchart Diagrams

“Best practices are useful reference points, but they must come with a warning label: The more you rely on external intelligence, the less you will value an internal idea. And this is the age of the idea” ― Gyan Nagpal, Talent Economics

Flowcharts or flowchart diagrams serve to answer questions/problems, and a deftly created diagram will answer them in a direct and efficient manner. By mastering the best practices and rules required to create flowchart diagrams, anyone would be able to bring forth highly practical visual solutions. The first rule or the top among best practices for these diagrams is to ensure that the elements are simple enough to be comprehended by anyone – even someone not part of a particular process. Since flowchart diagrams are meant to be a visual representation of a process/project, every step or stage should show clearly every set of options leading to the next set of options, right until the processes reaches completion.

In order to ensure that every step and all the options are represented within the flowchart, teams must make time to brainstorm and analyze every possible issue and aspect of the process in question. Effective flowchart diagrams can be created when the creators already have a relatively clear understanding of the actual flow and options that would need to be incorporated within the expanse of the flowchart. It would be a lot easier to put the visuals in place once there is clarity in the ideas related to the process.

The great part of flowchart diagrams is that they are flexible and easily formatted, albeit with some rules and best practices to be kept in mind. Once the ideas have been placed inside of a flowchart, formatting is possible from left to right or top to bottom (and not the opposite directions that is right to left or bottom to top). The return lines below a flowchart must not intersect, the space between each symbol must remain consistent, the right symbols must be used to represent each step (for example: diamonds for decisions, rectangles for processes, and so on), and the start and end shapes must be the same. In order to save on space, it is advisable to avoid using capital letters however in some high-level flowchart diagrams there are ways to use capital letters without taking up too much space.

Experts of flowchart diagrams recommend keeping them on a single page, since moving through several pages is distracting and makes these useful diagrams unreadable and difficult to comprehend. If flowchart diagrams do exceed a page, despite all the edits, it should be broken down into several charts but ensuring that each chart is a single page only. Some of the ways to make the ‘perfect’ edits are by reading the process steps aloud such that all present can listen. What each person should be listening for, are words/steps that can be removed, simpler and shorter words to replace those within the expanse of the flowchart diagrams, and possibilities of ideas that can save on space. The diagram too can be resized but while ensuring that the image resolution is maintained and the font size reduced while still being readable. There are several types of fonts and it would be prudent to use font styles that are smaller than others.

It is important to remember that the changes from formatting and editing must remain consistent, to ensure that the flowchart diagrams are professional, clear, and professional in their appeal. It is best to stick to a minimalistic design since any errors and omissions would be easy to spot and hence, rectify. Flowchart diagrams are useful only when they are accurate and well-designed. Before publishing, each element must be reviewed thoroughly by several persons/stakeholders to ensure that the final product is polished and no errors fall through the cracks.

Flowchart diagrams can be extremely exciting to work with and some designers might lose control with their creative talent taking over. Flowcharts are best when they are minimal – this is an important factor to consider when designing. The main purpose of flowchart diagrams is to lucidly express a flow – for instance an organizational flow, operational procedures, workflows, and others. The reason of expressing a flow is to ensure that everyone easily and at a glance is able to understand how things work and function. The design should be pleasing but it should not be so baroque that it confuses the viewers. If as a designer you yearn for creative leeway, apply your creativity to fonts, lines, colors, and shapes. When used effectively, colors for example, can be extremely effective in allowing key elements to stand out. Just keep it simple and avoid using too many colors.

Symbols and shapes too can contribute immensely, but ensure that they are used effectively.

A typical flowchart diagram would have:

  • Symbols that represent steps in the process. This is obviously the most common component
  • Terminals indicate the beginning or end of flowchart diagrams
  • The flow-line connects two blocks and indicates the direction of a process
  • The decision is usually a yes/no or true/false type of question, indicating a step that decides the next step in a process

Understanding flowchart diagrams and when to use them is vital – there is a fine balance between design and informative content. Both these factors must be such that they urge viewers to read every bit of the insights and information contained within the expanse of the diagrams. Direction is important – the eyes of a person naturally follow the left to right or top to bottom path, and hence using either of these in flowchart diagrams would ensure that viewers actually understand them. As mentioned, as far as possible, keep flowcharts contained on a single page, which can be achieved by using the optimum size and spacing. Consistent symbols size, colors, line length etc. would ensure easier comprehension.

While there are standard symbols for most flowchart diagrams, creators can go one step forward to simplify the understanding. Using a chart key will help viewers to understand what each element within the flowchart indicates. The chart key must also include the ‘key’ to the colors used, however creators must ensure that they must limit the colors to a maximum of 3, since fewer colors attract attention and make it easier to follow the flow of the process within the chart.

Creators must remember that flowchart diagrams are meant to highlight and emphasize the critical portions of a process. Readability is quintessential to these diagrams and it would make sense for the creators these charts to use fewer words within them. To ensure that all those involved get all the information possible a comprehensive set of documentation should accompany the flowchart diagrams.

Creating flowchart diagrams is fun, but can prove highly challenging if the rules and best practices are ignored. Creators must have a thorough understanding of the projects, industry standards, and an eye for detail in order to put together meaningful and effective flowchart diagrams. The tips and best practices mentioned should help in creating flowchart diagrams that are highly functional, easy to understand, well-formatted, and properly balanced. Best practices have been given this name for a reason!

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