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How to Create a Good Diagram

Yesterday I was reading some Mckinsey articles on how machine will impact differrnt types of works, the article was made more professional by the beautiful diagram it has.
And I relate that to my experience of demonstrating user journeys to the business, if is true, a good picture speaks a thousand words.

So are the rules to create a good diagram

Color plays an important role in creating a good diagram; while the actual color we select does not matter too much (and please do not use too much time trying to match the color meaning with the audience culture); I find the following guidelines very useful:
Use same color for objects that belong to the same concept (say, if I am showing the male and female population by age group, I will use one color for all bars representing female and another color for male);

Use a color scheme that provides contrast between different objects. Take the same example before, I will probably use Pink for female and Blue for male in stead of two Pink or Blue colors that looks similar to each other;

When using multiple triads, uses colors of similar saturation levels. Saturation refers how a “color” appears under a particular lighting condition. Mixing primary and secondary colors with similar saturation levels provides a more cohesive looking design. For example, a bright red color mixed with a blue-ish green color can give some strange effects, sometimes giving the illusion of vibrating when not looking directly at them (very annoying).

Don't use too many colors on a diagram, it makes it difficult for the users to read the message the diagram try to convert which will overshadow the main goal of the diagram;
Fonts in the diagram generally compliments the font used in the articles, especially for long articles, having different types of fonts make it messy.

Besides, it is suggested to use a single font in a diagram; use different font weights (light, medium, bold) to emphasize.

Handwriting fonts are only used for statements that comes from somebody. 

Size is an often neglected element of a diagram, while it is important in situations where you have to give indications of weight or trend of changes. 

See the following diagram I took from the Mckinsey article "Where Machine Could Replace Human and Where They Can’t Yet" In which the size of the circle represents the percentage of time spend in US occupation.

If all the above principles on color, size and font are fulfilled, the diagram should look visually pleasant. 

Nevertheless, this is only half of the things needed to make a diagram and frankly, it is the easier half.

Diagram exists in the context, it exist to demonstrate a connection, to visualize a relationship or to make a point. And to achieve this purpose, first, a diagram needs to have a meaningful title, a title that summarize the most important information this diagram is trothing to convey. Take the same diagram above for example, content before and after the diagram talked about how each task conducted by different professions can be automated and the title basically talked about that it is different. On one hand this is a rather vague sentence to be anywhere meaningful ( I would rather say something like “management tasks are highly un-substitutable while routine and labor intensive works will likely be substituted by machines, especially in less knowledge required industries) but on the other hand, for users to keep reading to the end of the article, the title also cannot be too executives.

Make sure the diagram is relevant to the context, say I am talking about Fast Food consumption in US, then my diagram should be about Fast Food and the icons and images I use be aligned in the same theme; but if I started to use trucks and cranes, readers of the diagram will be very confused and need to take extra time to interpret the message. Allow the diagram relay information to strengthen the written word.

Consistency between the message in the article, or the video, or the speech etc, and the diagram you want to use. I will not use diagram just because it looks nice, if it is too simple and I can give the message in several lines of text, i will not bother for a diagram as it actually reduce the quality of my article. 

All in all, a well represented diagram makes a lot of difference; but try not to over use it, otherwise it will be very counter-productive. 


Where Machine Could Replace Human and Where They Can’t Yet

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