How to design an effective flowchart

Business coach presenting flowchart on board

Communicating with a large group of people can often be a challenge, especially when you’re trying to explain or deconstruct a complex idea or process. How do you ensure everyone is on the same level of understanding? How do you confirm that you can cover all bases in your discussion?

That’s where a good and effective flowchart comes in.

What is a flowchart?

A flowchart is a vital visual communication tool(opens in a new tab or window) used by anyone engaged in planning, organizing, and improving processes. This means it can be used by different people in various industries and situations — whether you’re an engineer, a student, a designer, a leader, or a team member.

Benefits of using a flowchart

A flowchart is beneficial in several ways in helping us organize our thoughts, ideas, and processes. Here are some advantages to using flowcharts when brainstorming, planning, or process outlining:

  • With simple visual aids in place of complicated jargon, flowcharts help streamline effective communication.
  • A well-organized flowchart is presented logically, allowing stakeholders and meeting members to understand the flow of a process more efficiently.
  • The logic aspect of a flowchart also allows everyone to easily spot unnecessary steps in a process or possible issues — which can aid in troubleshooting.
  • Flowcharts make for good documentation. When utilizing flowcharts during a whiteboarding session, members can easily save what they have produced during their meeting as an excellent visual reference.

A better way to create a flowchart

While you can use the ol’ pen and paper when flowcharting, a better way is by utilizing Canva’s whiteboard tool(opens in a new tab or window) and flowchart maker(opens in a new tab or window). Canva is easy and intuitive to use. What’s even better about it is that you and your team can use it anywhere — on your phone, tablet, or desktop. You can start one from scratch or use one of our ready-made flowchart templates(opens in a new tab or window). As long as you’re online and have access to Canva, you can create a flowchart on a digital whiteboard(opens in a new tab or window) that you can easily save, download, and present.

Different types of flowcharts

There are a great variety of flowcharts available out there, but choosing the right one is crucial. Here are some standard types:

Decision flowchart

A decision flowchart presents the steps taken to back up a particular decision, and the possible consequences of various choices available.

Process flowchart

A process flowchart visualizes the steps needed to be taken in a sequential order to achieve a particular result or outcome. At its most basic, it will include a sequence of actions or activities. It may also include decisions that need to be made at each step, people involved in every stage, the duration of each step, etc. In example, the Garment Manufacturing Process Flow Chart(opens in a new tab or window). The garment manufacturing process involved a number of processes from order receiving to dispatching shipment of the finished garments. A process flow chart helps to understand how raw materials are moved from one process to another process until raw materials are transformed into the desired product (garments).

Product flowchart

A product flowchart allows product developers and project managers to stay on top of the new product development process — from ideation, design, prototype, to implementation.

PERT chart

A program evaluation and review technique or PERT chart is useful when visualizing a project timeline and tracking every team member’s task and deliverables.

Workflow chart

How to make a flowchart with Canva

Creating flowcharts with Canva is intuitive, easy, and lends itself well to collaboration.

1. Outline your flowchart with a purpose in mind.

Are you creating a flowchart to illustrate your business workflow diagram(opens in a new tab or window), a process map(opens in a new tab or window) for your new members, or a project flowchart to help you and your team keep track of deliverables?

2. Log on to Canva.

Search for ‘flowchart’, ’flowchart templates’, or ‘whiteboard templates’ to find a match.

3. Customize your template

Canva’s flowchart maker has thousands of graphic elements that you can use to illustrate the details on your flowchart.

Symbols. Below are the universal flowchart symbols, but it’s your choice whether you want to stick with them or use your own.

  • Rectangle Shape - used to represent a step in the process
  • Oval or Pill Shape - used to represent the start or the end of a process
  • Diamond Shape - used to represent a decision
  • Parallelogram - used to represent either input or output

Make sure to connect your symbols by utilizing lines and arrows to show the flow.

4. Customize your colors and fonts

Make sure to use high-contrast color combos and fonts that are simple and readable.

5. Collaborate with your team

You can easily share access and work together in real-time on the same dashboard. You can control your team members’ access, assign tasks, and get feedback or comments right on the whiteboard or design project.

6. Save and publish

Once you’re done with your flowchart, you can save it for future reference in your Canva account. Download your visual and use it on print products such as posters, infographics, and flyers. You can also show your flowchart to different stakeholders in a meeting or event with the Canva Present feature.

Tips to make an effective flowchart

Not all flowcharts are made equal. A good flowchart can make your communications easier, but an unclear one can only confuse and muddle your flow. Here are some tips to keep in mind when crafting a flowchart:

1. Limit your flowchart to one concise page

The goal of a flowchart is to visualize your data or process and help you see steps and stages in bird’s-eye view. This means:

  • Maximizing the use of symbols
  • Keeping your text short and in readable font
  • Not overloading your chart with information

2. Be consistent

There are many guides available outlining commonly used flowchart symbols(opens in a new tab or window) and what they represent. You may opt to use them or come up with your own. The only key thing to remember is to keep them simple and consistent. If you’re using your own, make sure to provide an easy-to-understand legend for your members so everyone’s on the same page.

3. Utilize contrast

Contrasting colors don’t just make your flowchart visually engaging—they can also help keep your flowchart easy to follow and understand.

4. Guide the eyes

For a flowchart to be effective, it should be easy to understand at a glance. Flowchart makers must make this happen by utilizing simple lines and arrows, making sure their data flows from left to right (which mimics how we read), consistently putting return lines under the diagram instead of all over the place, and using the split path arrows to clearly illustrate decisions.

Key takeaways

Flowcharts are helpful visual communication tools that anyone can benefit from, as long as they’re crafted with care. Attention to detail is key when making one, so if there’s a right time to be nitpicky, it’s when drafting a flowchart. And because it’s so easy to miss out on details, collaboration is essential. No one creates an effective flowchart on their own.

Finally, you don’t need to be a total design whiz to create a flowchart that you can proudly present to your team, clients, or bosses. Maximize the tools available for you to use, like Canva’s flowchart maker(opens in a new tab or window) and online whiteboard templates(opens in a new tab or window) to craft an effective flowchart with ease.

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