Readability of Your Diagrams

Typically the human brain can store only so much in its working memory at the same time. Too much stuff on the canvas distracts. Or worse, it becomes confusing or unpleasant to decipher. If the experience is confusing or unpleasant, this indicates a failure to get your message across.

Click to open Learning Objectives

LO1-1 Understand that the objective of diagram production is to be clearly read and decoded.

LO1-2 Compare and contrast diagram notation models, in terms of readability

LO1-3 Recognise the utility of children diagrams and drill-downs to enhance readability.

LO1-4 Using an appreciation of your audience before you begin mapping

LO1-5 Leveraging the accessibility of Universal Process Notation (UPN)

Keep it Simple 

So, try to keep the amount of stuff (objects used on the canvas) and the structure (the way boxes and lines are positioned, use of specific colors, text-boxes, and images) readable. 6-8 boxes per diagram are digestible, 12 already a bit more daunting, and 24 is likely to confuse or be intimidating. Be aware of adding too much meaning to certain things: The red line means A, the red dotted line means B, the bold dotted blue line means C, the solid yellow box and the black dotted line means D… etc. When your audience needs a guide in order to read your UPN diagram, you missed the point of UPN a little. Remember: If you lose your audience, you lose what you want to achieve…
To assist you in reducing immediate confusion, the hierarchical drill-down principle allows you to unpack complex steps into less complex steps.
For example, below you can see a simple diagram illustrating the use of drill down into child diagrams, for more detail in particular areas. This can make diagrams much easier to understand…

…than a multi-box, multi-colour, big diagram that cannot be comprehended all at once.

UPN vs Mind Maps and Other Drawings

The UPN process modelling notation is one of the simplest diagramming notations in existence. It has been thought through to ensure that as little cognitive effort as possible is required to make the drawing itself. The idea is to enable business analysts to draw detailed, insightful visualizations of business processes.

A simple principle to follow with UPN diagrams is to always ask yourself: would others be able to understand the diagram if I wasn’t there to explain it? Let’s look at a non-UPN example below. This is what most business or logic diagrams being produced look like. 

Try answering these questions: 

  1. Who requests the project and enters it into PM?
  2. Who creates installation drawings? 
  3. When,how and by whom is the design team notified?
  4. Would you feel confident configuring a Salesforce solution based on the provided diagram?


Elements drawing capability, on its own, will not help you analyze and capture detailed and useful business logic information. You need to apply principles outlined in this course to unlock the power of UPN diagramming. If we take part of the diagram shown above and use Elements to capture it, you can see clearly that it is still easy to create bad UPN diagrams. 

With good UPN we can answer any question, like WHO does WHAT, WHEN, and HOW.

Understanding your Intent and Audience

When we create information we sometimes might not be clear about our intent or, worse, tend to forget who we are creating this information for in the first place: our audience.

The combination of intent and the way we engage with our audience is critical for success.  So, before you start to document your processes, ask yourself:

  1. What is my intent?
  2. Who is my audience?


When we engage with a wide variety of stakeholders, such as business subject matter experts, end-users, business analysts, developers, we need to be aware that each of these has its own specific expertise, experience, and skills. From a process notation point of view, a developer probably wants way more detail and rigor than, say, an end-user. But you cannot engage with an end-user using complicated language. Or engage with a developer using too little detail and rigor.

So, what is the best of these 2 extremes? You guessed it: Universal Process Notation! The idea is that the notation is both simple enough to be easily understood by everybody in the business, and strong enough in order to form a contextual place for analysis and development. UPN has its origin in a combination of IDEF, Functional Flow Block Diagrams and critical thinking about business justification (answering the business why of an activity).

This all means that developers (or any other subject matter experts) can continue using their language, but in the overall context of an easier to interpret overall business-friendly notation. People new to diagramming will also find it easier to learn.

So, there is nothing wrong with other notation & approaches (e.g. BPMN, UML, Flowcharts, DFD’s, Gantt charts, Pert diagrams, FFBD’s, IDEF, Petri nets; see this source) but Universal Process Notation keeps information accessible for everyone, and rigorous when needed.

What ‘s next

Next, you will take a short, theory and practical quiz. Select it from the menu below.

This quiz will help you to recognise the skills and knowledge you have gained, and identify any areas you still need to explore and learn.

Remember, you can revisit these pages, or ask us for help if you get stuck. Once you pass the quiz, click “Next Module” to move on to Module 8.