What is diagramming?

Diagrams are graphic representations of processes or links between concepts. They can be helpful with many parts of creative work and business processes, including:

  • Project management
  • Collaborative brainstorming
  • Marketing campaign development
  • Company restructuring
  • Workflow improvement
  • App and website development

The Learn Diagramming series will teach you several ways to use diagrams in your work. You’ll also learn more about diagramming applications that can make the process easier (and more fun). But first, let’s cover the basics: what does a diagram look like, when should you use it, and how can you make one?

Why are diagrams useful?

Diagrams are a really useful tool when you need to organize complex themes or show how two data points may interact with each other. You can create and use diagrams to organize your own thoughts, of course, but they're also a great way to collaborate. And, with the help of online diagramming tools, you can turn this process into an asynchronous or remote team activity

How to create a diagram (in 4 quick steps)

If you draw two circles on a piece of paper, label each one, and connect them with a line, you've effectively begun drawing a diagram. This basic process of linking data points with lines and circles is what gives us one of the most basic and versatile forms of diagramming: the mind map.

Mind maps are an excellent way to begin brainstorming ideas. They're also useful when you need to identify new patterns in data.

You can start making one in FigJam right now—it's simple.

Step 1: Open a new FigJam file

To get started, create a new FigJam file. You can start with a blank doc, or, to make things easier, open our free mind map template. There are two ways to create a new file:

  1. Go to www.figma.com and sign in
  2. Click "New FigJam File" along the top of your screen
  3. Search for or select a template in the window that pops up, or click the X to use a blank file

You can also create a new FigJam board at any time by clicking the Figma symbol in the upper left corner and selecting File > New FigJam File.

You're now ready to get started making your first diagram!

Step 2: Label your main topic

Create a shape—any shape—and place it in the center of the screen. Start typing in the center of the shape and label it with your main theme or topic. Feel free to make this center shape any color that you like. If you change your mind later, you can make it a new color or shape at any time.

Step 3: Place a node

Hover your cursor over the shape you made in step 2. You'll see a little plus sign pop up.

Click on the plus sign to create a duplicate of the shape you've already made. The two shapes will become connected by an arrow. You just made your first node! You can now label it and move it anywhere you'd like.

Finally, give this new node a new color or shape. This will help to differentiate each level of our mind map.

Step 4: Continue placing nodes

Keep placing nodes on your mind map. If you find you need to add more layers and are running out of space, just click and drag to move your nodes to a blank area.

Continue to assign each level a new color or shape to keep concepts organized. You can recolor and re-organize these shapes at any time if your project or diagramming needs change.

There! You've just made your very first mind map.

Types of diagrams: 7 Kinds to know

There are lots of other ways and formats in which to make diagrams, too. You can use the same building blocks (nodes and connectors) to create:

  • Organizational charts: If you've ever looked at an org chart, you've encountered a diagram! This is one of the most common types of diagrams you're likely to find in any business, as they depict the chain of command.
  • Flow charts: These diagrams are similar to a mind map but move more linearly, showing stages in a process. They typically move from right to left, but you can arrange your chart in whatever way makes the most sense to you.
  • Visual sitemaps: A visual sitemap is a way of depicting all of the different pages that make up a website. Making a visual sitemap is very similar to creating a mind map. Instead of starting with a central topic, though, you'll start with the website homepage and display each page that falls beneath it in hierarchical order.
  • Information architecture: These diagrams are a close cousin of visual sitemaps. You can create an information architecture diagram to build out not only what pages will be on your public-facing website, but what needs to happen on the back end as well.
  • Sequence diagrams: Sequence diagrams illustrate the interactions that take place during processes. These diagrams may represent digital or physical processes as well as objects and subjects. You could use a sequence diagram to illustrate a human user interacting with a computer system, or two computer systems communicating to share information.
  • Network diagrams: These diagrams show how devices connect to a shared network and communicate with each other or outside sources. They may also be used to show not just how objects directly connect to the network, but how information flows through the network as well.
  • Customer journey maps: This is a type of flow chart that depicts all of the ways a user or potential customer might interact with your brand through various touch points. You may have heard customer journey maps referred to as user journey maps, too. The two terms are sometimes used interchangeably.

There's really no limit to how you can use a diagram. You don't even have to use nodes and connectors—groups of digital sticky notes are another great way to get your ideas down on the page (or screen).

The FigJam Community is a great example of versatility in diagramming. Our users have contributed tons of great templates, plugins, and tools to help you begin creating diagrams for nearly any use case. If you have any information or ideas that you want to organize, a diagram will help.

FAQs about diagrams

If you’ve never created a diagram before, you probably have some questions about how it all works. We’ll cover a wide array of ways to use diagrams throughout this lesson series, but here are answers to a few frequently asked questions about diagramming:

What is the best diagramming software?

When it comes down to it, the best diagramming software is one you and your team will use. You'll want to choose a program with the relevant features that your team needs. If you'll be working remotely or asynchronously, then it's very important to use an enterprise-grade program that supports:

  • Individual logins for each team member
  • The ability for multiple users to be working on a diagram at the same time
  • Commenting and voting tools
  • Customizable interfaces and add-ons
  • Integrations with other tools you use for business operations
  • Pricing tiers that support your intended number of users

Working between FigJam and Figma is easy. Read more

Can you make a diagram on a virtual whiteboard?

Yes! Online whiteboards like FigJam are perfect for making diagrams. You aren’t limited to a narrow set of shapes and lines like you might be in other forms of flowchart software. FigJam is a flexible workspace where you can create diagrams, record notes, vote on ideas, and organize visuals. You can turn your FigJam diagrams into whatever you need them to be.

Are there other ways to use diagrams?

Of course! This Learn Diagramming series will give you the foundation you need to use diagrams. From there, you can apply these principles however and whenever you need them. You could create diagrams to help you:

  • Plot out a novel
  • Organize a trip
  • Develop a new career path
  • Prepare for an academic presentation
  • Group thoughts for articles and essays

Ready to get started putting diagramming into action? Our next lesson will walk you through using diagrams for brainstorming—the perfect way to start a new project.