From personal decision making to corporate processes, there’s no better way to visualize complex, interrelated information than a classic flowchart. Flowcharts come in all shapes, sizes, and styles, and their versatility is exactly what makes them so handy.
Depending on how you structure and organize your flowchart, you can visualize almost anything! Below, learn more about the different types of flowcharts, when to use each one, and how to make your own flowchart in Shutterstock Create.
What Is a Flowchart?
Flowcharts are a means of displaying information in a visual way. They often consist of a set of shapes (representing concepts, steps in a process, or other data points), which are connected by arrows or lines demonstrating their relationship to one another.
You’ve almost certainly seen flowcharts in school, business settings, healthcare environments, or even just perusing content on Pinterest.
Flowcharts are often used for:
- Documenting and standardizing processes
- Ideating and brainstorming
- Identifying gaps or vulnerabilities in a system
- Making decisions
- Creating emergency protocols
- Mapping out customer journeys
- Organizing internal teams
- Tracking progress over time
Did you know? If your industry is ISO-compliant, there are predefined standards for the types of shapes, colors, and lines to be used in a flowchart. However, for your own personal use (or for most business cases), you can absolutely adopt your own style.
All that matters is that your team is on board and understands how to read the chart.
5 Common Types of Flowcharts & When to Use Them
Flowcharts are as diverse as the processes they document, so there are countless types and subsets available.
Below are five of the most common flowchart styles—but always feel free to tweak each template to make it your own! (You’ll find more detailed instructions on creating a custom flowchart at the end of this article.)
1. Decision Trees
One of the most challenging aspects of making a decision is the fact that there are always multiple variables at play. It’s never as easy as “this or that”! That’s where decision trees can save the day.
By presenting multiple paths in the form of yes or no questions, decision trees break things down into digestible chunks and help you account for multiple possibilities at each step.
Decision trees can be used for something as simple as when to buy a new bike (like the template above) or for something as complex as when to deploy which emergency procedure in the event of a disaster.
2. Project Maps
From SAAS to engineering to solopreneurship, all businesses big and small rely on processes to keep their projects running smoothly.
A project map is a helpful tool not only for planning out the steps of a process but also for sharing that information across teams (or even externally with customers), keeping everyone accountable and well informed.
Project maps can be linear, charting out a single process in subsequent steps, or they can branch out (as in the example above) to show responsibilities across teams.
3. Organizational Charts
Organizational charts are essential for companies, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations—both for internal and external use.
Internally, org charts help delineate roles and supervisory responsibilities. Externally, they help clients understand who to contact for assistance with specific needs or requests.
4. Process Charts
Like their name suggests, process charts are used to document processes from start to finish, which is especially useful for maintaining consistency across departments or even globally distributed teams.
Documentation is always the first step toward standardization, and it carries the additional benefit of helping to identify any gaps in a process.
Any writer will tell you that planning is more than half the battle, and flowcharts are the perfect tool to help you organize all those disparate trains of thought into a cohesive, compelling narrative.
Whether you’re writing a persuasive speech for school, quarterly business update for shareholders, or motivational message for staff, there’s an outline-style flowchart for you! Think back to high school English class to map out your main point (AKA thesis) and your supporting evidence.
5 Best Practices for an Effective Flowchart
Unlike some more decorative graphic designs, flowcharts are all about one thing—straightforward visual communication. By following these five best practices, you’ll make sure your message is clear and easy to understand.
1. Keep It Simple
As a sort of pared-down infographic, the beauty of a flowchart lies in its simplicity and ease of reading—so make those elements work to your advantage! As much as possible, stick to just one concise page and keep the overall aesthetic as minimal as possible.
2. Create a Logical Flow
English-language readers tend to begin at the top left of a document and then follow a roughly F-shaped reading pattern for the rest of the content. Use this pattern to lay out your flowchart in a natural way, adjusting as needed for your native language.
3. Focus on Readability
Skip the fancy, overly decorative fonts and instead use one or two fonts that are easy to read. Make sure the font’s color contrast is high enough, too. You don’t want readers to have to squint to read a label or follow a decision path.
4. Use Color Strategically
In a flowchart, strategic use of color helps readers understand the content faster. For instance, you could use one color to denote a positive outcome and another to denote a negative outcome, or one to follow Path A and another to follow Path B.
There’s no hard-and-fast rule for using color, other than to be thoughtful about it. Less is more!
5. Be Consistent
Again, quick understanding is everything when it comes to flowcharts. Keep all of your design elements consistent—including font, color, and shape—so that the brain can quickly process information without any unnecessary details getting in the way.
How to Make a Flowchart in Create
Whatever type or amount of information you have to visualize, it’s easy to make a custom flowchart in Create. Here’s how.
1. Get Started
Choose your favorite flowchart template or open a blank canvas from the Create homepage.
Pro tip: Check out infographic templates for some additional inspiration, too!
2. Customize It
With your flowchart template open in the Create editor, you can easily customize it in any way:
- Click on the title to edit the text, try out new fonts, and experiment with colors.
- Click on the text within any shape to edit it.
- To duplicate any shape, path, or arrow, click on it and then use your keyboard shortcut to copy (Ctrl+C or Cmd+C) and paste (Ctrl+V or Cmd+V).
- Add new shapes to your flowchart by clicking Shapes from the left menu and dragging any shape to your canvas.
- Reposition any shape, path, or arrow by dragging it on the canvas.
3. Add Graphics or Other Effects
Depending on the type of information you’re visualizing, it might be helpful to add some icons, graphics, or even photos to your flowchart. Create makes it easy:
- Insert free graphics by clicking Graphics from the left menu.
- Upload your own photos by clicking Images from the left menu and then the Upload button.
- Pull from Shutterstock’s massive asset library by clicking Images and then searching by keyword in the search bar.
Want even more pizazz? Experiment with snazzy effects like photo filters by clicking Effects or Pro Effects in the top menu. Just be sure to prioritize readability over decoration.
4. Export or Publish
Once you’ve finished customizing your flowchart, you’re ready to share it with anyone:
- To download your file, click Download and choose JPEG, PNG, or PDF.
- To share your file to Facebook or other social media platforms, click Publish and then connect your account.
That’s it! From start to finish, the creative process takes no more than a few minutes. In fact, the most time-consuming part will likely be the brainstorming and mapping out of steps. Once your information flow has been decided, the actual design part is lightning-fast.
With Create, you definitely don’t have to be a graphic designer to create an informative flowchart! Start with a flowchart template and you’re well on your way to a crystal-clear message that anyone can understand.
License this cover image mockup via Bibadash, Samarets, and Cartone Animato.