Diagram Series: How to survive a technical review

How on earth can anyone make sense of this technical review (see figure #1), apply mysterious comments, and deliver a valuable visual?

Figure #1 (Click to enlarge)

For an experienced Information Developer impossible becomes possible 🙂 How? During the technical review, pay attention how your SME corrects the following elements:


Arrows are all about arrow heads. Use arrows to display the flow of data from one component to the other. When working with arrows, remember the following:

  • The direction of arrow heads is extremely important because it changes the way the data flows. Arrow heads can point into one direction (left or right) or into both directions (left and right).
  • Arrow heads can point inside the component or to the outline of the component. This differentiates how the component reads the data.

The following figure shows that the upper arrow head points inside the component, while the lower-left arrow head—to the outline of the component. The lower-right arrow head is not needed, so the arrow becomes one-directional (from right to left).

Figure #2 (Click to enlarge)


Connectors are simple lines that do not have arrow heads.  Use connectors to connect components, not to show the interrelation between components. When drawing connectors, remember the following:

  • Brighter colors emphasize the most important connections, while darker or grayish colors display less important connections.
  • Wide connectors turn users’ attention and are good for displaying mainlines, while thin connectors dissolve in diagrams.
  • Various types of connectors—dotted (……….), with dashes (_ _ _ _), with dots and dashes (. _ . _ . _), and so on—help users read your diagrams.

Do not rely only on color of a connector, try to combine several characteristics to make lines distinctive. To help users read and comprehend your connectors, provide a legend.

The following figure shows that connectors are used to connect equal components, while arrows show the flow of data.

Figure #3 (Click to enlarge)

Ovals (circles and rectangles)

Ovals (circles and rectangles) may be used to visually group components. Make sure that your ovals do not look like cloud solutions (of course, if they are not meant as such) 🙂 When working with ovals, remember the following:

  • Solid outline shows that components make sense only when they are grouped.
  • Dotted outline (not solid) shows that components can be used as a group and individually.
  • Shaded background (a shape filled with a solid color and some level of transparency) can also be used to group components. Be consistent and follow your project style guide.

The following figure shows that the left oval is shaded with a background color, while the right oval is transparent with a solid outline.

Figure #4 (Click to enlarge)

I hope that this article will be of use for you. Additionally, you can read how to create a diagram from scratch, make your diagrams informative following practical tips, and select the right type of graphics for your particular case.

3 thoughts on “Diagram Series: How to survive a technical review

  1. Thank you for this. Many of us think that we intuitively know these design principles, but it turns out that my intuition might differ from yours – or, most important, from my reader’s. These things rarely get written down in style guides, so you’ve done us a service by writing them down here.

    A note about color: we should know from the start whether our output medium supports color, and whether our audience might be susceptible to color-blindness issues. If color isn’t an option, a technical artist can still do a lot with line weights, patterns, and shading – as you pointed out.

    Liked by 3 people

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