April 30, 2014

An Introduction to Diagrams (with diagrams)

Lately I’ve been on a diagramming kick for the last month after making quite a few presentation diagrams at NBBJ.

Diagrams are a great way to visually organize information that makes it easier to understand. There are hundreds of different types of diagrams, from your basic Venn diagram or UX flowchart to more unusual ones, like a spider chart or radial diagram below.

Instead of representing raw data as a block of numbers or text, you can abstract it and draw to draw attention to important elements. For example, here’s a block of 49 squares. If you wanted to know how many dark grey squares there were, you could count through each row or column and then total it up at the end. This might take a little while.

However, if this information was easily organized in a diagram, you could tell how many squares there were were much faster.

Diagrams can range from the super simple pen-and-paper sketches to more complex 3D models plotting changes in multiple dimensions. Low-fidelity diagrams can be adequate enough to get your point across.

Diagramming isn’t just limited to quantitative objective data. They can also be fun or atypical. For example, here’s my mostly subjective diagram of the structural integrity of food in precipitation, aka the “Rain-Sandwich” diagram. In other words, it’s a diagram of the maximum amount of precipitation you can eat certain foods in (you can’t eat cotton candy in heavy rain, but you can eat an apple).

If you’d like to get started diagramming, but don’t know where to start, you can try picking a quantifiable variable (such as temperature or hours in a day) and then plotting the changes over an axis (such as time or seasons). You can also check out sites such as Designspiration for more examples and inspiration.

Happy diagramming!

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