Don't do this when using a flowchart builder

Written by 
Bryan Kitch
May 23, 2024
An image of a woman sitting in front of a computer thinking carefully
Don't do this when using a flowchart builder
Written by 
Bryan Kitch
May 23, 2024

Using a flowchart builder is like using a GPS for your ideas. Get it right, and you've got a clear path outlined to your destination, with guidance along the way. 

But get it wrong, and it can take you way off track (and not in the fun, road-trip kind of way where you end up with a cool new bumper sticker and a story to tell). 

Let’s say you're gearing up for a new project kickoff meeting with timelines to nail down, tasks to assign, and budgets to balance. Using a flowchart tool the right way can boost clarity and efficiency in this scenario. However, one misstep can lead to confusion — and ultimately even hinder your team’s productivity. (Dun dun dunnnn!!)

Before you start plotting points and connecting lines, let's talk about what not to do when using a flowchart builder.

What is flowchart software?

Flowchart software is a digital platform that lets you visualize, create, and edit flowcharts to organize information. 

These tools come with pre-made shapes and symbols that you can drag and drop and connect to show the flow of your process or ideas. 

So let’s go back to that road trip. With a flowchart builder, you can draw out your route, mark stops, and plan your journey step by step — all before you plug it into the GPS.

The best flowchart software offers collaboration features, so you can work with others on the same diagram, and make sure you’ve got all the steps right. Plus, you can usually save and share your work in different formats, like PDF or PNG.

8 mistakes to avoid with flowchart makers 

Let’s explore eight common slip-ups to avoid when you build a flowchart online.

1. Skipping the planning stage

Before you start dragging and dropping shapes, take a step back and invest some time in planning. First up, define what you want your flowchart to cover. What business process or system are you trying to illustrate? Clearly defining the scope keeps your flowchart on track. 

Next, think about who’ll look at it — your team, clients, or stakeholders. Tailor it to their needs so it speaks their language. For instance, if your flowchart caters to new employees, you’ll want to make sure that it’s clear and easy to follow, with explanations for unfamiliar terms or concepts.

And lastly, outline the steps of the process you’re showcasing. Trust me, a little planning goes a long way!

2. Overcomplicating the flowchart

When you cram unnecessary details or convoluted processes into your flowchart, you risk losing your audience in a sea of shapes and arrows, making it difficult for them to grasp the context or purpose. Overcomplicating a flowchart just ends up confusing and overwhelming everyone. 

To simplify complex processes:

  1. Focus on the big picture, highlighting the essential steps that lead to the main goal while cutting out unnecessary detours
  2. Use clear language, tidy shapes, and logical grouping to make the flowchart easy to follow
  3. Remember, simplicity is key to creating flowcharts that actually make sense and resonate with your audience
Related: Why you should use simple drawings when you collaborate online

3. Neglecting to define symbols

When you don’t define symbols in your flowcharts, each shape or arrow becomes a guessing game for your audience. They might interpret symbols differently without clear guidelines, leading to misunderstandings and mistakes.

Create a key or legend that clearly defines each symbol and its meaning within the context of your flowchart. For example, rectangles represent tasks or actions, diamonds indicate decision points, and arrows show the direction of flow. Avoid any ambiguous symbols that could cause confusion.

4. Ignoring consistency and standards

When elements like font size, color, and spacing are consistent throughout your flowchart, they create a cohesive visual experience that's easy to understand. That’s why you should:

  • Choose a clear and legible font for text, and stick to the same font size for headings, labels, and body text
  • Select a limited color palette for shapes, lines, and text to avoid visual clutter and distraction
  • Provide consistent spacing between elements to maintain a balanced layout and improve readability

To maintain consistency and standards, use Mural for better flowcharts. Our platform provides a library of pre-designed (and free) flowchart templates for various types of visual representations, such as process flows and swimlane diagrams. These templates come with standardized elements and layouts, ensuring consistency in flowchart design.

5. Failing to test and validate the flowchart

Just because a flowchart looks good on paper, it doesn’t guarantee it’s accurate, clear, or easy to follow. Testing helps you find any errors or inconsistencies in the flowchart, reducing the risk of misinterpretation (or costly mistakes down the line!).

Round up your team or some subject matter experts and walk through the flowchart together. Encourage them to ask questions, point out anything that’s unclear, and suggest improvements. Mural’s remote think-aloud testing template helps you record ‌feedback during testing.

You should also validate your flowchart with ‌people who know the process inside and out. Make sure it accurately reflects how things work and incorporate any feedback provided.

6. Not documenting the flowchart process

Without documentation, it’s difficult to understand the context behind the flowchart or to make updates or improvements in the future. Plus, if the original creator isn’t around to provide explanations, you’re left scrambling to understand their intentions.

Documenting how you build interactive flowcharts provides a record of the assumptions, decisions, and rationale behind it, making it easier for others to understand and use effectively. 

By building a flowchart with Mural, your team can add annotations, comments, and notes directly onto the flowchart canvas. This approach makes it easy to document the flowchart-building process.

Related: What is process documentation (and how can it help your team?)

7. Overlooking accessibility and usability

Imagine reading a flowchart with tiny text or colors that blend together — frustrating, right? That's why making flowcharts accessible and usable for everyone is important. 

Mural prioritizes accessibility and usability, offering features such as screen reader compatibility and keyboard shortcuts. By choosing an accessible flowchart tool, you make sure that your diagrams are inclusive and usable for all team members, regardless of their abilities or preferences.

Related: Design your life: giving agency to the neurodiverse

8. Ignoring feedback and collaboration

Feedback isn’t just about catching errors (though it’s great for that, too!). It guides you toward clarity and understanding. When you collect feedback from stakeholders, you see things from new angles and uncover blind spots you might have missed.

Mural’s Teamwork Research report found that 71% of knowledge workers believe meetings aren't the best way to collaborate and align on work. That’s why you need flowchart builders like Mural that offer collaboration features to streamline feedback and revision processes. Take advantage of comments and annotations capabilities so your team can leave suggestions directly within the flowchart canvas — enhancing teamwork.

Flowchart best practices

In addition to avoiding the flowchart mistakes above, you should keep these best practices in mind:

  • Define the references: Clearly determine the symbols and shapes used in your flowchart to ensure consistency and understanding among all users. This way, everyone interprets the flowchart correctly and prevents confusion.
  • Avoid infinite loops: Be mindful of loops — a process or decision point leading back to itself or to an earlier point in the flowchart. This creates a never-ending cycle of actions that could potentially run indefinitely and cause software or processes to hang or crash.
  • Use a flowchart key: Include a flowchart key or legend to describe the meaning of symbols, shapes, and colors used in your flowchart. This practice provides clarity for users unfamiliar with the conventions you’ve chosen.
  • Choose the right tool: Select a flowchart builder that suits your needs and preferences. Make sure the tool allows you to create clear, concise, and visually appealing flowcharts – like Mural does.

Reap the benefits of the best flowchart software

With Mural, you can build flowcharts that are visually appealing and are highly effective communication tools. 

Hundreds of pre-designed templates make it easy to get started, even if you’re new to flowchart builders. From basic process flows to intricate decision trees, Mural has templates (ready to be customized to fit your needs) for every scenario.

And the best part? Mural is a platform for continuous improvement. With features like version control and revision history, you can track changes over time, revisit previous iterations, and see how your flowcharts evolve with each collaboration session.

Bring your flowcharts to life! Sign up with Mural today for free to enjoy all the benefits of the best flowchart software.

About the authors

About the authors

Bryan Kitch

Bryan Kitch

Content Marketing Manager
Bryan is a Content Marketing Manager @ MURAL. When he's not writing or working on content strategy, you can usually find him outdoors.