Explaining Flowchart Connectors

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Journeys are an integral part of our personal, emotional, social, and professional lives. Every hour and each day of our individual and collective lives represents a part of the journey undertaken by human beings on this planet. History bears testimony to the fact that civilizational journeys comprise an emergence, struggle, stabilization, flowering, and eventual demise. Much of the academic efforts involved in geology, history, and archaeology are devoted to charting the past journeys of the earth and those that animated various lines of human endeavor. In modern times, science has unearthed a variety of journeys in the earth sciences, in technology, in the domain of biology, in commerce, etc. High points and arenas of decline distinguish each journey. An examination of these journeys reveals causal and non-causal connections between the various aspects of a journey. Flowchart diagrams are no different; these digital illustrations hinge on flowchart connectors that remain integral to the journey depicted in a modern flowchart.

The modern flowchart creates a visual impression of an ordered set of sequences that map a certain system or process. Each stage in this flowchart represents a certain event that drives the subsequent stage toward a designed outcome. The use of flowchart connectors enables diagram designers to impart a certain momentum to the diagram. Arrows represent the most commonly used flowchart connectors because these are spare in form and generate an unambiguous message. These arrows spur comprehension and direct the movement of human eyes in the desired direction. Each arrow carries a certain weightage because a straight arrow presents linear movement bereft of any systemic complication. Designers can lend additional heft to an arrow when they append additional information (or formulae) in its immediate vicinity. This input necessarily complicates the picture but aids the human brain to understand a process in detail. Flowchart connectors also serve to create a sense of emphasis and urgency when a flowchart diagram is outlined on a digital board in front of a live audience.

Arc connectors, elbow connectors, straight connectors, and rounded elbow connectors represent some of the most commonly used flowchart connectors. These digital devices enable designers and creators to sketch a flowchart and navigate the available space to outline a process. An arc connector represents a section of a circle that terminates in an arrowhead. This is useful in terms of connecting the different stages of a flowchart that exist at different levels. An arc connector, when deployed in a bright color, can reinforce the sense of connection between two (or multiple) stages. Similarly, an elbow connector represents an ‘S’ shape that can potentially connect multiple stages to a parent stage. This variation of flowchart connectors enables designers to depict complex flowcharts that breach the assumed linearity that may pervade a reviewer’s mind. Elbow connectors also empower designers to create sub-stages when depicting the working model of a complex system or process.

Rounded elbow connectors feature soft curves that terminate in arrowheads. These flowchart connectors allow designers and creators to break the norms of linear progression; these connectors are useful when a designer chooses to sketch a process by hand on a white board. In addition to aiding comprehension, a rounded elbow connector affords creators an opportunity to depict connections between two or multiple stages. Additional information, when appended to these connectors, lend depth and weight to a flowchart diagram. The straight connector remains a basic representation of flowchart connections. This variation of flowchart connectors allows creators to boost the linear model of the modern flowchart. It also poses the most direct form of communication to readers and reviewers of flowcharts. In addition, the straight connection empowers designers to economize on the available space, thereby depicting a complex process within the confines of a non-negotiable expanse of visual space.

Visual emphasis remains one of the key mechanisms to transmit information through flowchart diagrams. A random instance of such emphasis emerges when we consider the multiple strokes of a pen (or marker) that underline a certain object on the screen. Similarly, flowchart connectors operate as devices that drive visual emphasis for the human eye that follows the sequence of events outlined in a flowchart. These connectors are constructed to connect non-interlinked stages on a flowchart in line with the actual operation of a system or process. For instance, the main body of a vertical flowchart may present a series of linear events; however, one (or two) stages may refer to events that operate outside of the depicted process. These external events (or outliers) may pose as repositories of code or information, regulatory approval, the policy stance of a certain administration, etc. The designer must visually amplify the connector in a bid to denote the importance of said connection to the main flowchart. In doing so, we are able to gain a fine appreciation of the importance of flowchart connectors in the modern context.

Complex processes make for complicated flowchart diagrams sketched on a digital board. Engineering processes, technological solutions, biological mechanisms, and commercial systems present high levels of complexity that require detailed rendering. In such cases, flowchart designers can deploy the off-page connector in a bid to connect separate elements across multiple pages. Visually, this variation of flowchart connectors represents a rectangle whose base is an arrowhead pointing south. This off-page connector enables readers and reviewers to collate multiple dispersed processes in different pages of a multi-stage flowchart diagram. In addition, flowchart designers may elect to append page numbers to off-page connectors in an attempt to spur reader comprehension. These connectors are useful referencing tools of the digital age; they confer considerable flexibility on flowchart designers that wish to connect multiple stages of an extended flowchart. Further, a number of these flowchart connectors can be grouped onto an on-screen legend for the benefit of readers and reviewers.

Flowchart designers may use a variety of colors and shapes to fashion unique flowchart connectors. Black, green, cyan, magenta, and blue are suitable for most flowcharts. Each color suits a different background; therefore, colors must be applied accordingly. The use of these connectors can be automated in a bid to impart uniformity across the length and breadth of a flowchart diagram. Commercially available software packages enable designers to create their own versions of flowchart connectors; these packages also offer sets of pre-configured arrows to suit the needs of designers and creators. Designers can also achieve the 3-D effect when they apply shading to different parts of a connector. This effort is not mandatory, but creates a distinct impression for the benefit of readers and reviewers. In addition, creators and designers can create custom connectors with a view to create a branded library of flowchart connectors.

The preceding paragraphs have explored the various uses of connectors located inside flowchart diagrams. Every creator can exercise the artistic right to formulate his or her own set of connectors. That said, creators and designers must adhere to the facts in placing connectors; a wrong placement can disrupt the process flow depicted inside a flowchart. This entails a close collaboration between flowchart designers, process experts, and domain specialists. In addition, flowchart designers must work to instil a sense of discipline in an attempt to curb the indiscriminate placement of connectors inside a flowchart. This discipline should allow them to gain a clear sense of connectors and their various uses.

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