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Visual Grammar for Business Rules for creating visuals that communicate effectively. February, 2011 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Successful organizations around the world are using visuals more and more to succeed in business, because nothing communicates as powerfully and immediately as the right business visual. Until now, however, there has been a lack of common rules for communicating with visuals, which reduces their effectiveness for widespread communication. To combat this problem, SmartDraw developed Visual Grammar—a set of simple rules that ensure visuals communicate as effectively as possible. Just as a word processor automatically applies proper formatting to text documents, SmartDraw automatically applies Visual Grammar rules to every visual, resulting in: Consistently formatted visuals no matter who creates them The ability to focus on your message, not formatting Productivity gains through reduced miscommunication Why Visual Grammar? We’ve all heard the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words.” It’s quite true, as demonstrated below by showing the structure of an organization as a chart rather than as a text-based description. 1 www.smartdraw.com 858-225-3300 ©2011 SmartDraw, LLC. All rights reserved. Vinodh Vikarah Executive Pilot, Wide-Body Group Josh Sams, Chief Pilot, 747 Series Jay Ward, Safety Officer Justin Fahy, Compliance Director Jim Hood, Duty Regulations Ruben Flint, Chief Pilot, 767 Series Kevin Walsh, Safety Officer Deb Lengel, Compliance Director Eric Bouck, Duty Regulations Sonya North, Chief Pilot, 777 Series Lee Taus, Safety Officer Jeff Scott, Compliance Director Adam Smith, Duty Regulations Text Description Visual Visuals let you condense information into a form that is both quickly digestible and shows connections and relationships. Studies show that communicating with visuals is up to six times more effective than communicating with words alone. However, we risk losing these gains if the visuals we create don’t follow a set of generally accepted rules that make them understandable to everyone. To better understand this, consider written communication. When we write we follow accepted rules: We spell words in a standard way We put a space between words We arrange the words in lines that read from left to right. We read each line on the page from top to bottom We use the same font, size and color for the text unless we intend to show special emphasis. We use sentences and other punctuation We form paragraphs and arrange lines so that they line up on the left This makes written information much easier to communicate. I can pick up a document written by someone else and immediately read and comprehend it. Imagine how much more difficult it would be if I wrote like this: MaryHad A littel lamb its flece waswhite as snow and everywear that M ARY Went that lam was shure to go By establishing rules we all follow, written communication is much more efficient than it would be if everyone made up their own. Today there are no common rules for communicating with visuals and this reduces their effectiveness. The most obvious example of this involves flowcharts. A flowchart is a visual that communicates the steps in a process by representing each one as shape connected by a line. 2 www.smartdraw.com 858-225-3300 ©2011 SmartDraw, LLC. All rights reserved. A Flowchart It is common to see flowcharts that use arbitrary colors, shape sizes, and arrange their shapes down the page as well as across the page as in this example: In this example logic flows from the left to right and from top to bottom and from bottom to top. The shapes used for each step are random. The colors are random. It is very difficult to follow. Here is another example: 3 www.smartdraw.com 858-225-3300 ©2011 SmartDraw, LLC. All rights reserved. This flowchart is built in random directions on the page, with different-sized boxes, and unequal spacing of shapes. It is also very difficult to follow. Here is an organization or “org” chart that does not follow the Consistency Rule (described below). It’s a mess and more difficult to follow: 4 www.smartdraw.com 858-225-3300 ©2011 SmartDraw, LLC. All rights reserved. Common Visual Grammar for all Business Visuals All business visuals, including flowcharts, mind maps, organization charts and other visuals that involve shapes and lines must follow these two simple rules: 1. The Consistency Rule 2. The One-Page Rule Let’s examine each of these in more detail. The Consistency Rule The Consistency Rule says that the appearance of equivalent shapes, lines and text in a visual should be consistent (i.e. the same). For example our flowchart uses the same color, same font and same size for each shape. Only the start and end shapes have a different outline to indicate their status as starting and ending points. Gratuitous use of different colors, sizes, spacing, shapes and fonts only distract the reader, just as they do in text. By eliminating this distraction, the reader can concentrate on the content of the visual. In more detail we can express the Consistency Rule as follows: All equivalent shapes should: 1. Be the same size. 2. Be the same color 3. Be spaced uniformly 4. Be aligned uniformly 5. Use the same text font, size and color. 6. Have the same outline Here is an example of an org chart that follows the consistency rule: 5 www.smartdraw.com 858-225-3300 ©2011 SmartDraw, LLC. All rights reserved. This organization chart uses the same sized boxes for all positions, and follows all of the rules. The head of the organization is highlighted by using a different color. The One-Page Rule The One-Page Rule states that the visual must fit on one page and the text must remain readable. If the visual is intended to be viewed on screen, consider the “page” to be the area of the screen that is visible without having to scroll. To be effective, a visual must be viewed as a whole and so it must fit on a single page or a screen. Visuals can be scaled to fit on a page but not by so much that the text in the shapes is no longer readable, otherwise, the visual fails to communicate at all. This rule is common sense but is also the most often violated. What happens when there is too much information to fit on one page? The answer is to create a hierarchy of multiple linked visuals, each of which does fit on a page. Consider the following example. Suppose your organization contains 200 people. Creating one org chart with a box for each person can’t fit on a letter-sized page and still be readable. One way to comply with the one-page rule is to print it on a much larger page using a large format printer. Another is to break it up into a hierarchy of smaller charts, called a Collection. Summary in a top-level chart This organization is divided into six departments each headed by a VP. The first two layers of management can be easily represented by an org chart that fits onto one page. This top-level chart communicates the overall structure of the company quickly and effectively, without bogging you down in the details. It is provides a summary of your organization. The Director of Channel Sales oversees the channel sales organization. 6 www.smartdraw.com 858-225-3300 ©2011 SmartDraw, LLC. All rights reserved. Detail in a lower level chart This chart also fits nicely on a page. It shows the detail of the channel sales organization. If this chart is hyperlinked to the Director of Channel Sales position in the top-level chart, then someone looking at the top-level chart can click on the Director of Channel Sales position and immediately view the detail of the channel sales organization. Likewise for all of the positions on the top-level chart: each is hyperlinked to another chart that shows the detail for the part of the organization headed by the position. Breaking a large organization chart into a linked hierarchy of smaller charts not only satisfies the one-page rule but also improves comprehension compared to one large chart, because of the separation into summary and detail. This approach has similar advantages for complex flowcharts, mind maps and other shape and line visuals. Common Visual Grammar for Specific Business Visuals Flowcharts Like all business visuals, flowcharts should follow the Consistency Rule and the One-Page Rule. The One-Page rule is particularly important. Flowcharts are often used to document complex business processes that do not fit on a normal-sized page. Even on a large format page, a single chart for a complex process is difficult to follow. Process documentation is far more effective as a portfolio of hyperlinked charts. Each step in the top- level process flowchart is a summary of the detailed steps in the complete process. Each is hyperlinked to a flowchart that shows the details of the step. The steps in the detail flowcharts may themselves summaries of even more detailed steps and hyperlinked to their own flowcharts in a recursive way. The summary with drill-down to detail via a hyperlink is a much more comprehensible and manageable way to describe a complex process than with one giant flowchart. 7 www.smartdraw.com 858-225-3300 ©2011 SmartDraw, LLC. All rights reserved. The following shows the top level process for serving burgers in a fast food restaurant. Each of these shapes is a summary of a more detailed process and is hyperlinked to the flowchart for that process. For example, clicking on the first shape “Order taken at restaurant counter” links to this flowchart: Place order on computer links to: 8 www.smartdraw.com 858-225-3300 ©2011 SmartDraw, LLC. All rights reserved. And so on. Each flowchart fits on one page and is easily understood. Note that shapes which hyperlink to more detailed processes are dark gray. Blue shapes link back to parent processes. Compare this with all of the steps on a single flowchart: Not nearly as useful! In addition to following the One-Page Rule and Consistency Rule, flowcharts should also follow the following special rules: The Flowchart Rules 1. Flow is from left to right and arrowheads show the direction of flow 2. Decisions are represented as a split in the path, like a decision tree 3. Return lines connect the bottom of shapes and do not cross 4. Flow may wrap into multiple rows but is always left to right Let’s illustrate these: The Left to Right Rule In Western cultures, people read from left to right. Flowcharts that flow from left to right are also easier for the average person to read than flowcharts that flow from top to bottom. The Split Path Rule Traditionally a step in a flowchart that represents question has been represented as a diamond with lines coming out of two vertices, one for the path with one answer, the other for a second answer. There are several problems with this: 1. A decision symbol immediately introduces two directions of flow in the flow chart, breaking the left to right rule and making the chart harder to follow. 2. Most consumers of flowcharts don’t know the convention of the diamond as a decision and so the change in symbol outline is just a distraction for them. 3. Too many creators of flowcharts don’t know this convention either and so they use diamonds and other shapes inconsistently, resulting in confusion instead of useful information. A split path is immediately understood without special training by virtually everyone. It is intuitive and does not have to be learned or taught. 9 www.smartdraw.com 858-225-3300 ©2011 SmartDraw, LLC. All rights reserved. Compare these two flowcharts of the same process below. You can see how introducing the decision symbol causes the flow chart to immediately break the left to right rule as one path now flows vertically. This gets worse with multiple decisions: 10 www.smartdraw.com 858-225-3300 ©2011 SmartDraw, LLC. All rights reserved. As compared to using a multiple branch split path: Return Lines Rule Flowcharts commonly have a return line that connects two boxes that are not connected by the normal flow. Because we read lines of text from the top of the page down to the bottom, return lines are easier to follow if placed consistently below the left to right flow of the shapes. If two lines return to the same shape, they should be connected so that there is no overlap. Overlapping lines should be avoided wherever possible. If your chart requires lines to overlap, reconsider its design. 11 www.smartdraw.com 858-225-3300 ©2011 SmartDraw, LLC. All rights reserved. The Wrapping Rule When the number of sequential steps in a process become too many to fit across the page and remain readable, it is permissible to wrap them using a long return line. Wrapped Flowchart Do not wrap them by snaking the shapes from right to left. Snaking Flowchart Snaking forces the user to read from right to left, which is not intuitive. Organization Charts Organization charts should also follow the Consistency Rule and the One-Page Rule. We used an example of a hierarchy of linked organization charts to describe the One-Page Rule. In addition organization charts should also follow the following special rules: 12 www.smartdraw.com 858-225-3300 ©2011 SmartDraw, LLC. All rights reserved. The Organization Chart Rules 1. The hierarchy flows down the page, with the head position at the top and reports underneath. 2. The bottom levels with no reports are shown in a columnar style; higher levels with reports are shown in the horizontal style. 3. Assistants are shown on the lines that connect managers with subordinates. 4. Shapes are either: 1) all the same size; or, 2) shapes at the higher levels are larger than shapes at the lower levels. 5. The text in the shape first labels the position and then the name of the person serving in this position on the next line. An organization chart is a display of positions first, people second. Let us illustrate these rules. This is a classic organization chart: Note: The CEO is at the top, and the reports are underneath. The bottom positions are arranged in columns. The assistant to the CEO is attached to the line connecting the CEO with direct reports. All of the shapes are the same size. The name of the CEO is under the title. Organization charts flow down the page because this is a widely understood metaphor for hierarchy. We use the phrases “top-down” and “bottom-up” to describe different ways to traverse it for example. Mind Maps Mind Maps should follow the Consistency Rule and the One-Page Rule. Topic shapes in a top-level mind map can be hyperlinked to a second mind map that shows the detail for that topic, in exactly the same way that a position can be hyperlinked to a chart showing more detail in an organization chart. In addition mind maps should also obey the following special rules: 13 www.smartdraw.com 858-225-3300 ©2011 SmartDraw, LLC. All rights reserved. The Mind Map Rules 1. There are three kinds of mind map arrangement: Radial, Right-Columnar and Left-Columnar. Radial arranges topics from a central topic out radially in both the left and right directions. Right-Columnar arranges them from top to bottom on the right side of the central topic. Left-Columnar arranges them from top to bottom on the left side of the central topic. Radial Mind Map Right-Columnar Mind Map Left-Columnar Mind Map 2. Topics are ordered from top to bottom, starting with the left column and then moving to the right column as shown with the indexes in the topics above. 3. The level of indentation of the topic from the main topic is shown with a color/outline change so that the hierarchy is more easily visible. 14 www.smartdraw.com 858-225-3300 ©2011 SmartDraw, LLC. All rights reserved.
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