Understanding Flowchart Symbols

flowchart symbols

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How do you use flowchart symbols? Symbols are an important component of human culture and history. Human beings have used symbols throughout their history in an attempt to communicate ideas, facts, and meaning. Symbols enable us to tell a story in engaging ways and create connections with those around us. We note that they have important cultural, historical, and religious meanings in the world around us.

In the modern world, symbols animate flowcharts and confer meaning on the various stages of a flowchart diagram. We can state a flowchart is the sum of its symbols. Each symbol that populates a flowchart has a specific meaning. It tells reviewers the importance of that step and its contribution to the system or process depicted on a flowchart. To deliver accurate details, you can use interactive decision trees for your customers.

Now, let’s examine the meaning and significance of various flowchart symbols.


A rectangle denotes a process or an action step in a modern flowchart. When we consider flowchart symbols, rectangles are the most common symbol that indicates a specific step or stage in a process. This shape is special because it transmits key information to audiences and reviewers. Rectangles encompass the major steps of a flowchart diagram and recur as the process proceeds toward completion. Modern digital technology enables flowchart creators to populate the rectangle with relevant data and information. In terms of symbols, the rectangle also imbues a flowchart with a visual cadence in terms of depicting the flow of ideas.

Rectangle with rounded corners

A rectangle with rounded corners indicates an alternative process flow. It may mirror the normal flow of events depicted in a flowchart. When we examine flowchart symbols, this symbol is useful because it suggests one may achieve a certain outcome in a process in more than one way. Modern engineering, technological, pharmaceutical, or commercial processes use this shape to indicate additional processes that may replace the normal flow of events in a flowchart.

For instance, a certain manufacturing process may achieve a series of results or outcomes through a defined number of steps. The alternative processes are also depicted in the flowchart for the benefit of clients and technical analysts. The alternative processes may be significant because they may confer cost savings in certain scenarios. In light of the above, we may state the rectangle with rounded edges enables flowchart designers to depict alternatives. Even as the flowchart moves toward completion.

Hexagonal shape Flowchart symbols

A hexagonal shape stretched laterally indicates a preparatory stage or step. This shape is key among flowchart symbols. It indicates that the subsequent stages of the process depend on its efficient operation. For instance, a manufacturer of scents and perfumes may create a flowchart to depict the stages leading to the formulation of the final product.

Flowchart creators can use the hexagonal shape to indicate the set-up of operations in the flowchart. Various raw materials are processed in different parts of a plant in preparation for further processing. This stage is vital and ensures the success of the manufacturing operation. The stretched hexagonal shape retains an important presence when we survey the use of modern flowchart symbols.

Irregular quadrilateral

An irregular quadrilateral shape signifies manual operation inside a flowchart diagram. Certain industries require manual intervention in their manufacturing processes. For instance, the automotive industry has extensive product lines that rely on automation but require human workers to perform certain tasks.

The scope of manual intervention can be heavy in the case of custom-designed automobiles. These steps are denoted by the irregular quadrilateral that retains a level of importance in flowchart symbols. The use of this symbol tells us that industrial production is not entirely automated in the present day. It also indicates that manual processes remain key in the completion of digital processes and systems.

Drum shapes flowchart symbols

Drum shapes with rounded sides indicate terminator stages in a flowchart diagram. Flowchart designers can use this symbol to signify the start or end of a process within a flowchart. A commercial operator that designs a flowchart can use the symbol to signify the start of a process. It can also trigger action that sets a certain process in motion. This symbol can denote the act of a customer walking into a store. The subsequent steps can include a commercial interaction with the customer, the implementation of an upselling strategy, the extraction of customer information, etc.

In certain cases, a flowchart may depict sub-processes within a larger diagram. This is common in flowcharts that describe engineering and manufacturing processes. The flowchart designer can deploy the drum shape to indicate the start and end of the sub-processes. This imparts a certain level of clarity for audiences. Therefore, the drum shape is significant when we survey the use of flowchart symbols.

Inverted triangle

Among the modern flowchart symbols, an inverted triangle indicates the merging of multiple processes into a common flow. Consider the case of a fruit packaging unit wherein, fresh fruit is packaged into boxes and sealed. The flowchart can depict the movement of fruit on a conveyor belt and the arrival of boxes from a different direction. The inverted triangle can be positioned at the point where these actions merge and the sealed boxes move into a warehouse. In terms of process mapping, the inverted triangle can indicate the storage of raw materials or product inventory. For instance, a manufacturer of cardboard boxes can chart its manufacturing process in a flowchart. They can use the inverted triangle to denote the storage of product that meets quality requirements. Once stored, the manufactured boxes are ready for dispatch to the client.

Diamond shapes

Diamond shapes indicate a decision point between two or more parts of a given flowchart. The diamond retains a crucial role in modern flowchart symbols because it indicates different outcomes. We may state this shape poses a question for reviewers of a flowchart document. Every diamond offers two unique outcomes depending on the inputs.

For instance, a diamond shape can indicate the probability of higher profit margins for a commercial airline operator. Satisfied and happy customers can create a steady flow of revenue for the operator. But, shoddy service can indicate low levels of customer interest. These lines of information can be depicted at appropriate levels inside a flowchart. The diamond can be placed prior to an outcome. In a similar way, computer programmers and coders can use the diamond shape in their flowcharts to govern the outcomes of running a specific piece of code.


Arrows, also known as flow line connectors, indicate the direction of the process flow inside a system depicted on flowcharts. The arrow is common in every flowchart. It visually creates order within the various stages of a flowchart diagram. We note the majority of flowcharts remain linear diagrams. However, in certain cases, arrows can indicate the operation of a sub-process within a flowchart. Certain designers choose to input information along the arrows. It adds clarity to the operation of a certain step or process. Digital technology enables designers to create straight arrows, arc arrows, bent arrows, elbow arrows, etc. In certain instances, designers can add heft to these arrows in a bid to boost the visual impact on reviewers. The arrow remains a primary artifact among flowchart symbols in the modern day.

We have examined some of the commonly used symbols in flowcharts in the preceding paragraphs.

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