The 6 best flow chart maker tips to improve your charting skills
Whether you work in IT, manufacturing, financial services, healthcare or retail, visual tools – like flow chart makers – can help you learn (and teach) processes and, when your flow diagram is connected to real-time data, can even help you track your inventory, or your progress against your goals. Although visual tools are often overlooked if you don’t work in a design industry, they can be invaluable. After all, according to an article by Molly St. Louis (of Inc.), 65 percent of the population is made up of visual learners – so it only makes sense to communicate in a way that reaches the largest possible audience.
That said, developing a flow chart design that’s both professional and eye-catching – and provides the right information in a logical, easy-to-understand format can take some time, especially if you’re new to flow charts. Which is where following some best practices can help. Let’s take a look.
- Templates. Templates. Templates. When you’re just learning how to create a flow chart, using a template (and exploring all of the options available) can help you learn how to present information in a logical, sequential order – and do it in a way that’s visually appealing.
Note: Templates are often divided into categories, like Business, Engineering, Maps & Floor Plans, Network, etc. but even if you don’t think a template category will apply to you or your situation, it’s worth exploring – because it just might be the perfect option with (or without) a bit of finessing.
- Use consistent design elements within the same chart. Because flow charts are meant to be easily understood, using consistent shapes for decision points, tasks, start and end points, etc. will help those using the chart know what needs to happen at each point in the process. Additionally, for a clean, professional look, every shape should be the same size, and the spacing and lines used between them should be identical. By using elements consistently, there will be a natural flow to your chart – and you’ll be able to reduce or eliminate confusion and distraction.
- Play with color. If you're hoping to engage your team or your client – or even create an attention-getting piece for your own use – color is critical. For a professional look, work within the confines of your own company's palette – or that of a client's. Just be sure to vary the shades you use for each task or step in the process. For instance, decision points might all be sage green, tasks may all be peach, and the start and end graphics might be burnt orange. This will help avoid confusion and keep your flow diagram interesting.
- Use your words. Although flow charts are primarily visual representations of processes, floor plans, etc., they should be augmented with explanations. By providing information and context they can help users make sense of flow charts. Just be sure to be brief. Don't use a full sentence where three words would do – or use three words when one would suffice.
- Keep your chart to a single page. Flow charts are meant to streamline and simplify understanding – but a chart that spans two or more pages can become pretty confusing pretty quickly. So, keep your chart to a single page (while still making sure your text is legible). That said, some processes are complex and may truly require another page (or several). When that happens, give an overview of the process on the first page, then include a hyperlink, or additional print outs, that illustrate each stage in the process. For instance: If you're working to explain the advertising process to a new team member, your first chart may include an overall look at the process. Then additional charts might take a deep dive into what happens during the creative process, the ad placement process, or reporting phase of the work.
- Test and edit. Once complete, ask one or two people to review it. Ideally, you would be able to gather opinions and insights from one person who is familiar with the process or information you're describing, and one who is not. This way, you can learn how to refine your flow chart based on different perspectives and experience levels. If you don't have that luxury (either in terms of staff or time), at least take a lunch or coffee break and step away from the chart. Then, with "fresh eyes," review your chart and make any adjustments necessary before putting it to use.
The Growth Center does not constitute professional tax or financial advice. You should contact your own tax or financial professional to discuss your situation.