Flow diagram guide (7 types of flowcharts + definitions)

Explore how flow diagrams optimize processes and when to use them

What is a diagram
Flow Diagram 101: 7 Types of Flowcharts & How to Use Them

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  1. Example 1 Data flow diagram (DFD)
  2. Example 2 Workflow diagram
  3. Example 3 Swimlane flowchart
  4. Example 4 Process flow diagram (PFD)
  5. Example 5 Event-driven process chain (EPC)
  6. Example 6 Specification & description language diagram (SDL)
  7. Example 7 Unified modeling language diagram (UML)
  8. FAQ Frequently asked questions

What is a flow diagram?

A flow diagram is a visualization of a sequence of actions, movements within a system and/or decision points. They're a detailed explanation of each step in a process, no matter the level of complexity of that process.

flow diagram

flow diagram • [flō dī-ə-gram]

Flow diagrams, also known as flowcharts, are powerful tools for optimizing the paths - or flow - of people, objects or information through a system or procedure. The connectors and symbols work together to create a visual representation of the direction of movement and what's needed to make that movement happen.


"After creating a flow diagram for our sign-up process, we were able to optimize the path and increase conversions by 12%"


  • flow process chart
  • flow sheet
  • process flowchart
  • schema
  • schema chart
  • process flow diagram
  • step by step structure
  • user flow

Types of flow diagrams: Uses & examples

Any process with multiple steps can be visualized with a diagram creator, if you're not sure where to start, use our diagram templates to take the pressure off. Before jumping into how to make a flowchart though, it's important to know the various types of flowcharts as some are better suited to meet your needs than others. Let's break down which you'd want to use to improve your operation.

Example 1

Data flow diagram (DFD)

✍️ Note: To visualize the flow of business processes, you'd use Business Process Model Notation, which is different from a data flow diagram.

Free data flow diagram template

Data flow diagram (DFD) for clothes ordering system

What are data flow diagrams used for?

These are most commonly used in the areas they started from; software engineering, development and computer programs. They're also useful in logistics as well as managing and trimming the fat from business processes.

Example 2

Workflow diagram

Free workflow diagram template

Workflow diagram for handling customer support tickets

What are workflow diagrams used for?

They're largely used for improving how work gets done and identifying bottlenecks you may have missed. These can also be helpful for onboarding new employees so they know exactly where they fit in a process.

Example 3

Swimlane flowchart

Free swimlane flowchart template

Swimlane flowchart for updating a website

What are swimlane flowcharts used for?

These are used when you have a cross-team project that requires a lot of interaction between various departments or employees. Also a great tool for pinpointing and fixing inefficiencies in the course of getting projects done.

Example 4

Process flow diagram (PFD)

Free process flow diagram template

Process flow diagram (PFD) for requisition process

What are process flow diagrams used for?

Process flow diagrams are useful in developing, standardizing and improving processes, illustrating a manufacturing process and also helpful in quality control.

Example 5

Event-driven process chain (EPC)

Free EPC diagram template

Event-driven process chain diagram (EPC) sending and settling billing

What are event-driven process diagrams used for?

This system flowchart is commonly used when revamping a business process, in resource planning as well as modeling and analyzing business operations.

Example 6

Specification & description language diagram (SDL)

Free SDL diagram template

Specification & description language diagram (SDL) for scoring a game

What are specification and description language diagrams used for?

These are most often used in industries like telecoms, aviation and medicine to describe state machines.

Example 7

Unified modeling language diagram (UML)

Free UML diagram template

Unified modeling language diagram (UML) for workplace structure

What are unified modeling language diagrams used for?

UML diagrams are most useful in software development and engineering.

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When to use a flow diagram?

Flow diagrams are used as process explainers, time-savers and clarity makers. If improving data flow, workflow or a process is the goal, flow process charts are your best bet.

How to create flowchart diagrams for free

Ready to start visualizing data and workflows, processes and activities so you can make better informed decisions? Get optimized with Slickplan.

Step 1 Sign up for a free (no risk) 14-day trial

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Step 2 Set up your diagram project in seconds

Diagram template drop-down menu

Step 3 Improve your user journeys & processes

Flow diagram of the approval process for funding

Slickplan has everything you need to start building user flow diagrams

  • DYNO Mapper
  • rarchy
  • FlowMapp
  • Octopus
  • Sitemap integration
  • Drop pin commenting
  • In-app collaborative diagramming
  • Flow diagram templates
  • Diagram statuses
  • 1
  • 2
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  • 4
  • 5
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Frequently asked questions


Use Slickplan’s Diagram Maker to visualize user interactions and build user experiences that exceed expectations.

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Learn about the best way to plot and optimize user flow paths throughout a website. Get flowchart examples and a tutorial from the Slickplan team.

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Diagram clear pathways and create UX solutions

Steve T

Creating flow diagrams used to be a tedious mess. With Slickplan’s drag-and-drop interface I can quickly build diagrams and collaborate with my team in real-time to perfect them, saving hours of frustration.

Steve T, Marketing Director at Awmous