All about flowcharts

A guide on flowchart making for both beginner and expert UX and product designers.

What is a flowchart?

A flowchart (also spelled ‘flow chart’) is a diagram that depicts a process, workflow, or system in steps that follow a specific sequence.

Flowcharts are visually simpler than other diagrams, as they never include wireframes or finished designs. Instead, they comprise only two elements: different shapes and the arrows connecting them.

Flowcharts should not be confused with user flows. Flowcharts are presented exclusively in low fidelity format and, contrary to user flows, have zero focus on the end product’s user interface.


Why make a flowchart?

Being easy to follow and understand but also rich in information, flowcharts are a staple in many fields, such as computer science, project management, product design, and more. Among other things, flowcharts can help both individuals and teams to:

Visualize a process or workflow, regardless of complexity
Document workflows, so that all stakeholders are aligned
Present ideas or processes in a digestible format
Start a conversation on how to improve an existing workflow or system
Conduct faster and easier quality control

Our old process took 1.5 times longer than it does now that we use Overflow.

Florence Loix

Florence Loix

UX Architect at Afelio

Read the case study

How to make a flowchart?

Flowcharts can be made with just a piece of paper and a pen or in any diagramming tool, such as Overflow. The process is quite straightforward:

Step 1 - Add shapes and symbols

Use different shapes to signify input, output, decisions, documents, and more. The best practice is to give each shape a different color.

Step 2 - Split paths

Rearrange your shapes in a way that makes logical sense and branch out to separate paths where users have to make a decision.

Step 3 - Connect

Draw arrows that show the sequence between the different shapes in your flowchart. Customize them as needed.

Step 4 - Annotate

Add labels and explanations to each shape and split path. A legend helps remind your audience what each shape stands for.

Create beautiful flowcharts in 30’ or less

What is the meaning of each flowchart symbol?

Each shape (known as ‘symbol’) has a meaning in flowchart-making. It’s important to keep this in mind when making your own diagram, as flowcharts are quite universal and should be easy to read by a variety of people, regardless of background. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of the most popular flowchart symbols:

Oval photo


Also known as capsules or pills, ovals symbolize a process start or end. In simple flowcharts, they are usually placed at the very beginning and the very end of the diagram.

Rectangle photo


By far the most common shape in any flowchart, rectangles symbolize steps of the visualized process. Steps can be actions, tasks, or functions.

Diamond photo


Diamonds serve the same purpose both in flowcharts and user flows, signifying a decision to be made that splits the user’s path depending on the answer.

Document photo


A trademark of flowcharts, this symbol signifies the input or output of documents in a process. These can be reports, invoices, emails, presentations, and more.

Parallelogram photo


Similar to the document symbol, parallelograms are also related to input and output, however in this case the focus is on data and other resources crucial to the process.

Cylinder photo


This symbol is more common in programming flowcharts and symbolizes the existence of a database that will allow users to browse or filter information.

Five tips for better flowchartsdecor connector

Flowcharts are usually expected to be simple, straightforward diagrams that help walk any audience through a process, regardless of complexity. However, larger and more complicated flowcharts are often likely to cause confusion. Here’s a list of simple ways to ensure everyone looking at your diagram is on the same page:

Use shapes and colors consistently

As mentioned above, each flowchart symbol has a specific meaning that is important to maintain throughout the diagram. To help guide your audience’s eyes through the different shapes, it’s recommended to use one color for each symbol type, so they are easier to distinguish from others around them.

Use shapes and colors consistently
Maintain a left to right flow

One of the basic principles of visual hierarchy is that the human eye processes visual information starting from the left and going to the right. This applies to flowcharts as well; it’s recommended that you structure your flowchart in such a way, to make your audience’s experience more pleasant.

Maintain a left to right flow
Avoid overlapping lines

Bigger flowcharts comprise multiple lines, both forward and backward. In order to make your diagram more readable, ensure that symbols are spread nicely on your board, leaving you enough space to add lines that don’t overlap. Also, prefer to add backward lines below the rest of the flowchart elements.

Avoid overlapping lines
Label everything

Never assume that your audience can follow your logic without help. Make sure all shapes in your flowchart contain labels that explain what each step, process, or document is. When decisions are involved in a diamond symbol, write the question explicitly.

Label everything
Include a legend

Flowcharts are diagrams that are meant to be easy to follow by people of different backgrounds. As your audience might have different levels of exposure to flowcharts, a legend will help everyone understand what each symbol means.

Include a legend
Ready to build you first flowchart?