A Diagram’s worth a thousand Words

By Mary Nielsen on Dec 13, 2016 in Stories

This post is brought to you by our friend Brad Hanks. Brad is a veteran marketing consultant. He currently works at ZipBooks, bookkeeping services for small businesses. 
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At Zipbooks, we’ve found a diagram is the perfect way to convey information quickly and succinctly. If you’ve ever had to navigate a user manual without a single image, then you know exactly why.

Without diagrams, it takes walls of text to capture the moving parts of a system. Diagrams save both time and money. Here’s just a few of the reasons we use them every day at our accounting software startup.

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1.) Diagrams smooth over language differences

If you’re in any sort of tech field, then chances are, you work with people who don’t speak English as their first language.

The problem is compounded when the people you work with are scattered across the globe. Sending text-based instructions is usually not enough. The right diagram can communicate what you want to explain even with a language barrier.

Moreover, certain types of diagrams use symbols that can help smooth over potential gaps in understanding.

For example, many software diagrams employ Unified Modeling Language (UML), which lets you express complicated program flows without needing to spell it all out in English.

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2.) Our brains are designed to appreciate diagrams

Before written language, humans communicated with images. Think of the cave paintings found from humanity’s early history.

Though we have since transitioned, that instinct for image remains. Indeed, 65% of people are primarily visual learners. Not to mention, our minds can process images up to 60,0000 times faster than text.

Using diagrams and flowcharts takes advantage of this natural human preference for images, while still incorporating verbal instruction when necessary.

They’re a sort of shortcut for getting information across. Whether you need to review a marketing funnel or the IT network for your office, a diagram can save you significant time.

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3.) Diagrams require less follow up

At ZipBooks, we’ve found more than once that a diagram helped reduce follow up questions and get the point across the first time. Here’s one example:

We wanted to make sure we could present ourselves as a fully functional alternative to QuickBooks. For that reason, we knew we needed an iPhone app right away. We found a great developer for the project, but unfortunately, he lived in one of the most remote location in the worldthe Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean. Not only were we unable to ever meet in person, we also had completely opposite schedules.

For this reason, I depended on diagrams to communicate. Whenever I felt like something we’d discuss was becoming too confusing, I’d rush for my favorite diagramming app.

Software like Gliffy lets you solve very specific problems.

In our case, one of those problems was to minimize the number of clicks new users needed to add a timestamp entry in our app. We tried at first to explain this goal verbally, but then quickly realized a diagram was a much better method.

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It was a fairly simple diagram, but it worked perfectly for our purposes.

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4.) When’s the right time to use a diagram?

You don’t need to wait for the maximum point of confusion to start putting together a diagram.

In fact, diagrams are great as preventive measures. If you outline a procedure in the first place, you’ll avoid a communication breakdown. Some team members might be resistant at first, but as they see what a difference visuals make, they’ll become convinced.

In my personal experience in software development, I use diagrams constantly.

In fact, I keep a Gliffy tab open on my computer. I only spend a few minutes there each day, since it’s so quick, but I always seem to find a use case for it.

I never regret the short time I spend, because it always pays off by saving so much more in the long run.

If I had my way, we’d use diagrams for everything. They’re quick, they’re easy, and they solve a lot of gaps in communication.