The whole point of creating a flowchart is to break complex ideas into clear and easy-to-understand segments. But sometimes, this purpose can be defeated.
That usually happens when the flow chart creator makes some mistakes. Often, mistakes could come in the form of a failure to add an important component, the use of a wrong symbol, or a lack of clarity in the overall flowchart system.
In any case, making mistakes in your flowcharts can cause confusion, lack of productivity, or even loss.
To prevent any of that, it’s important to avoid mistakes while flowcharting at all costs.
That’s why we’ve compiled this list of common mistakes people make when creating flowcharts. We believe that if you know where others fail, you might be able to avoid similar pitfalls.
7 unintentional mistakes people make when creating flowcharts
Using wrong symbols:
When I was new to flowcharting, I used to think there wasn’t any ‘special’ meaning to symbols. In my mind, a rectangle symbol is just the same as a diamond, parallelogram, circle, or oval shape. In fact, I chose my symbols based on which one beautified my flowchart the most.
For me, all I thought was that symbols were there to beautify your flowcharts.
Please don’t be like me.
Every flowchart symbol has its function – a role it plays. Oval, for example, typifies the start or end of a process, while circles are for on-page reference. If you use an oval symbol where you ought to apply a circle, you will confuse the reader.
To avoid symbol application mistakes, we advise familiarizing yourself with as many flowchart symbols as you can. Or better still, you can just download a flowchart maker like Zen Flowchart. The software has a large library of all flowchart symbols and shapes, as well as their meanings. When stuck on the right shape to apply, the software will come in and do the job for you.
Inconsistent flow direction
Flowcharts are generally drawn with directional arrows that combine components, segments, and symbols.
When picking out a direction, the general rule is to use a left to right flow direction or a top to bottom. Never both. Unfortunately, many amateur creators make the mistake of mixing the two systems in one flowchart. Please don’t be like them.
Doing that will make life difficult for the reader.
Another weird possibility is contrasting direction flow – that is, going left to right and then dramatically switching into right to left. This could cause contradictions and confusion on the chart. Please avoid it.
Improper use of color
To Whom It May Concern, flowcharts don’t need to be colored. I know you think it makes your work smooth on the eyes, but that’s just it. Applying color to flowcharts doesn’t really have any chart-specific functions.
However, that’s not to say you can’t use colors. You can. Just make sure it’s for a clear and important purpose. Like when you need to clearly distinguish between items. Not for decorations.
Painting your flowchart with loads of color schemes can cause unnecessary confusion and distractions for the reader. Please avoid or, at least, try to minimize it.
Inconsistent symbol sizes
You look at some flowcharts, and you find uneven symbols everywhere.
This is not a good practice at all. Like some shapes are bigger or smaller than the rest.
This doesn’t showcase a good flowchart creator skill. At all times, the symbols and components of your flowchart must maintain consistent sizes for the following reasons:
- Proper alignment: so that readers can see clearly which processes are in the same sections and which are not.
- Unnecessary space consumption: so that your flowchart doesn’t use more pages than necessary
- Wrong messaging: so that readers won’t attach unfair importance to bigger-sized shapes.
Uneven spacing between symbols
Many amateur creators make the mistake of applying too much or too little spacing between symbols.
Spacing in a flowchart is usually measured by the length of connecting arrows between symbols. In some weird scenarios, we find creators applying very long connecting arrows in some areas of their chart and then applying very short arrows in other parts.
This is not only confusing, but it also makes your work look unprofessional.
The simple rule is to maintain an even spacing throughout the flowchart. In other words, all connecting arrows must be of the same length.
As you can see in the example below, all connecting arrows are of the same length.
Incorrect use of the diamond symbol
Diamond in the flowcharting world is a symbol for decision-making. For those who don’t know, decision-making, in this case, refers to actions like ‘this way or that way.’
Unfortunately, not many creators understand how diamonds work or how to properly use them in charts.
Technically, you introduce a diamond into your chart when a two-way question is raised. The part where most creators get confused is the application of the direction arrows that signify each of the answers.
That is, for the ‘YES’ answer, where should the arrow be pointing at? And the same goes for the ‘NO’ answer.
The general rule is that for an answer that’s TRUE (i.e., YES answers), the arrow should flow out from the bottom of the diamond, while for all false answers (NO), the arrow should flow out from the right side of the diamond.
A good example of this is shown below.
Usually, when a flowchart doesn’t fit into one page, many creators opt to resize and compress it to fit the page. They do this because they don’t want the flowchart to extend into another page. The belief is that readers will prefer a one-page chart to a multi-page chart.
But that’s not true.
Cramming a flowchart into a single page makes the whole chart unreadable and jam-packed, thus making it impossible for readers to have the right view.
Instead of compressing into a single page, you should happily let your flowchart stroll into another page. There’s nothing wrong with a multi-page flowchart.