All points in a flow where not created equal

Jesse James Garrett’s Visual Vocabulary is an excellent resource for creating flow charts. There are of cause also other diagramming conventions such as UML and Entity Relation diagrams, but I often use JJG’s for my flow charts.

One thing that many vocabularies lack is a way to specify that some parts of a flow are more important then other parts. We need to focus our design efforts on the parts that add most value and we therefore need to be able to communicate the relative importance of different flows and even of different points in each flow.

The need to represent different importance in flows became apparent to me after a recent discussion with a client. The client is creating a system where customers of physical retail stores can go online to get access to services that enhance the shopping experience. I.E. they are enhancing physical retail by creating valuable online services.

The client of cause have a lot of flows that need to be outlined — for example finding and choosing which services to use, setting up services and daily use flows — but one of the most important ones is the flow that starts in the store with the customer getting info about the service. That flow, the discovery and sign up flow, will be the single most important one for the customer’s first year.

When I lay out the different flows I do of cause only add as much detail as is necessary to the charts, which is something JJG clearly states as a necessity in his vocabulary description. So, already in the vocabulary there is a provision about only including what is important. However, the flows also need to be complete — that point A of a flow is less important then point B might not mean that point A does not need to be included in the graph.

My solution to the issue is to use color to depict differences in importance. Color after all has an innate ability to communicate importance — orange is generally more visible then light blue. In order to capture the power of color without over loading the graph, i often use hues. darker hues mean higher importance. Which color I use depends on my mood as well as the client’s graphical identity.

Some examples:

The flow on the right is a standard Visual Vocabulary flow, on the left I have indicated that point B is the most important one in the flow, with C being slightly less important and A & D least important.

Here I have indicated that the choice of B or C is the most important part, with B being the preferred choice (preferred by a combination of the customer and my client). The graph could for example represent the decision of whether to pay by Credit Card or via PayPal, with Credit Card being the preferred choice.

The careful addition of color to flow charts to depict importance can enhance the communicative ability of the chart.

Welcome to my brain

Give me your email address. In return, I will share my thoughts with you.