Wojciech Gąciarz

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Interactive Diagrams

Interactive Diagrams

Diagrams are a vital part of data visualizations and data analysis. That’s why there are many types and two main modeling languages. Let’s take a closer look at what diagrams are, why there are so crucial for modern industries, where they find their usage, and what are good practices in diagrams creation.

What are interactive diagrams?  

Diagrams have been assisting people since prehistoric times because they are irreplaceable and the most effective way of presenting information. Consequently, they find wide applications not only in everydayness but also in business.   

But what are diagrams? In data visualization, they are a specific visual display that presents information or data depicted symbolically in the forms of different shapes, arrows, lines, or other optical links. They are used to simplify dealing with big datasets and explain complex processes and structures as easily as possible.   

The workflow diagram consisted of nodes, arrows, and labels.

Diagrams are often used as a synonym for charts and graphs. However, it’s misleading, because despite similarities there are also significant differences between these three terms.  

As for diagrams and graphs, one should remember that all graphs are diagrams, however not every diagram is a graph. Diagrams show rather how systems work or hierarchical dependencies between data. They indicate e.g., tasks sequence within a project. Diagrams are also there when you need a tool to present some notions.  

On the other hand, graphs are the best for presenting or comparing some variables in a set of information. They are useful in depicting, e.g., the population within a specific period or any other depictions of variables on axes. Whereas charts are useful when you need to present a categorized large set of data. However, charts are the widest group and can depict data in the form of charts and graphs as well. 

Diagrams and interactive diagrams – what’s the difference?  

Since diagrams can turn complex processes and structures into easy-to-read visualizations, they make data mining and project managing much more straightforward and effortless, allowing data analysts and managers to draw conclusions and offer data-driven solutions.  

However, these features relate only to interactive diagrams. Thanks to them, users can manually and on their own create symbolic representations of processes and structures using different elements, such as nodes, arrows, links, pools, etc. Interactivity means that:  

  • users can create or adjust diagrams and observe how processes work, 
  • diagrams components inform what is going on within processes.  

In other words, interactive data visualization provides users with more extensive control over process depiction, regardless of industry. They can personally explore diagrams instead of just reading them passively.  

Types of interactive diagrams  

As for diagram types, there are plenty of them depending on modeling languages (BPMN or ULM) because they offer specific elements and symbols to build diagramming structures. But it’s not all. You can also encounter some characteristic diagrams that do not belong to these two languages.   

As if all that weren’t enough, diagrams are often perceived as a collective term consisting of a whole class of data visualization tools. Consequently, it is common to include such visual structures as charts or graphs within this term. However, in this article, let’s focus only on diagrams’ narrow and specific meaning. Below you can find the most commonly used types of diagrams.  

P&ID (Piping and Instrumentation Diagram)  

P&ID is a specific diagram used in process engineering to depict all details of the chemical process at oil refineries, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and other processing plants where raw materials are turned into ingredients or finished products.   

P&ID diagrams include all the details about components used in material processing, e.g., turbines, fans, pumps, flanges, valves, indicators, alarms, and interlocks. Moreover, they can specify those components’ parameters and the processed material flowing along the pipelines.   

P&ID Diagram depicts a system consisting of pipes, flares and other objects.

Planogram   

Planogram is a type of diagram that finds application in retail. Its primary role is to plan how to present products on the shelves in retail shops or where to locate specific areas in a store (e.g., cooler or grocery sections). In other words, planograms are used to boost sales results by increasing the shop clients’ experience and comfort and minimizing waste for store owners and product manufacturers.  

Planogram depicts how different products are presented on the shelve.

Mind Map  

Mind maps are used to organize information and show relationships between them. They consist of a central, single notion connected with many other sub-ideas. Consequently, mind maps are a great tool to present and explain ideas for new projects and indicate ways for development.   

Mind maps can take different forms, but they are often drawn as an image in the center of a blank page connected with associated ideas represented by other symbols, images, or words. They can depict the main topic with subtopics, the main question with avenues of exploration, a project with its components or teams, etc.   

Tree Diagram  

Although tree diagrams are similar to mind maps, what makes the difference is that the nodes are ranked or hierarchical. Consequently, the audience can notice dependencies between information – which data is hierarchical higher or more important. What is especially beneficial is that tree diagrams can easily group data into categories.  

Thanks to these features, it is easy to depict dependencies among members of a work team, a hierarchy of tasks in a project, steps of conversation flow, etc.  

Tree diagram used in a chatbot platform.

Workflow diagram  

Workflow diagrams are a visual representation of tasks and connections between them, usually with arrows, shapes, and labels. They often depict steps of a project but can also consist of task lists that show what actions team members have to take to achieve a result. They are used mainly for spotting bottlenecks that can slow down or stop project realization. Workflow diagrams are common in small, medium, and big organizations, that is in every structure that needs to plan its actions.   

Modeling languages  

We have already mentioned two diagram modeling languages – UML and BPMN, so let’s now look at them a little bit closer.  

UML (Unified Modeling Language)  

UML is a standardized modeling language representing a collection of best practices that effectively model complex structures. It finds applications in system and software development, business modeling, and other non-software systems.   

UML is not a programming language but rather a visual language. UML diagrams portray the behavior and structure of a system and, in this way, help engineers, business people, and system architects with modeling and designing processes or systems and analyzing as well.   

UML consists of an integrated set of objects and uses associations between them to create diagrams. And these are classified as:  

  1. structural diagrams which capture static aspects or structure of a system (class diagrams, component diagrams, object diagrams, deployment diagrams),  
  1. behavior diagrams which capture dynamic aspects or behavior of the system (use case diagrams, state diagrams, activity diagrams, interaction diagrams).  

BPMN (Business Process Modeling Notation)  

BPMN is a visual modeling language that offers multiple techniques to help lay out internal processes, get a bigger picture of how things work, or spot errors and bottlenecks. What is characteristic of BMPN is that it uses a set of symbols and its methodology to describe a process. Its primary role is to deliver a visual representation of a business process flow that can be effortlessly read by any stakeholder – no matter their area of expertise. 

Why do modern industries need interactive diagrams?  

You have already known some essential benefits that diagrams offer for a business. Now let’s broaden this topic and find out why modern industries should use interactive diagrams.   

Simulations management  

The most effective way to test the operation of a tool or a system is through simulations. Interactive diagrams help in conducting them and recognizing any errors in system functioning.   

There are two cases when you can use simulations:  

  1. Dealing with complex scenarios which include a significant number of probabilistic events. This is when the user cares about corrective and preventive maintenance, inspections, and imperfect repairs.  
  1. Implementing the analytical solutions for complex systems allows users to observe the entire system, monitor its operation, and prevent failures that can negatively impact performed actions.   

Let’s learn how to use interactive diagrams in simulations.  

Business refinements  

Most companies and corporations work with a large amount of data. Thus, diagrams naturally match with business because they help in cleaning and presenting data in an easy-to-read way. Custom business diagrams enable:  

  1. keeping up with the market because they can act as notification tools detecting and highlighting the most crucial data,  
  1. planning because diagrams, as a visualization tool, allow concluding further expansion,  
  1. collaboration because custom diagramming applications support the mutual cooperation between teams,  

Above, we mentioned only three benefits that custom diagrams offer for business. Learn the rest of them and get to know specific types of custom business diagrams. You might also be curious about examples of interactive diagrams usage for business.   

Workflow depictions 

Workflow diagrams can help monitor and improve teams’ processes because they enable team members to understand critical stages in their tasks and indicate their position in a project. They listed tasks that should be taken to achieve a particular result. That’s why they are helpful in projects that involve a series of actions.   

As for benefits, workflow diagrams:  

  1. accelerate the project’s result delivery because they remind team members to perform particular actions or steps depicted in the diagram,  
  1. care about quality assurance, primarily when teams deal with repeated tasks – diagrams can ensure that they follow the same steps every time,  
  1. boost workplace satisfaction because they provide employees with clear expectations for each stage of a work task.   

Real-time data processing  

Interactive diagrams can process data in real-time. However, why anyone need to do that? Real-time data processing impacts the effective decision-making process, supports catching errors, and indicates the necessary corrections to the project. Get to know four functionalities that help work with real-time data in diagrams.   

Systems architecture management  

In designing and monitoring enterprise IT architecture, the most helpful are visualizations that depict elements of the systems and their interaction in processing data, handling workloads, and managing accesses. Diagrams find their application in all these mentioned above, but some types work especially well. Learn more about them and get to know how interactive diagrams support software architecture.  

Applications in various industries 

One of the most crucial interactive diagrams’ advantages is their unique adaptability to various industries – that’s why we talk about industry-specific diagrams that offer features tailored to various industries. Let’s look at a few of them. 

Diagrams in Gas & Oil Industry 

Gas & Oil is a branch of industry where process flow diagrams find wide applications. They provide engineers with many features that indicate the general flow of, e.g., plant process stream. They are also beneficial for designing petroleum refineries, chemical and natural gas processing plants, and other industrial facilities. On the other hand, P&ID diagrams also find wide applications within the Gas & Oil industry. They enable the creation of networks and diagrams depicting arrangements of pipes

P&ID diagram used by a Gas & Oil company for a structure’s depiction.

Diagrams in Automotive Industry 

Diagrams support the process of building automotive products. They help teams in work performance because they simplify the workflow. Data visualization offers intelligent tools such as decision flow diagrams or action lists that allow administrators and other team members to exchange precise information and organize the hierarchy of tasks.   

Diagram presents an overview of a bill of materials.

Diagrams in Healthcare Industry  

With the use of diagrams, data visualizations help in presenting patients’ records and personal data. Furthermore, diagrams depict parameters in the halls or rooms, such as temperature, CO2 concentration, and humidity level. Moreover, it is possible to integrate data residing in multiple databases providing a user with a unified view of them.   

Diagrams in Cybersecurity Industry  

Diagrams can be beneficial in creation of applications for networks and software security. Their features can visually reflect the network’s structure and all actions undertaken to protect network security from cyber-attacks. Diagrams enable placing even thousands of pages on them, creating the site map, and preparing the categorization of websites. Thanks to these, they help immediately indicate potential threats.  

Diagrams in Aviation Industry  

Innovative solutions make the usage of data visualization even for aviation. Thanks to applications that use diagrams, airports can smoothly track human clusters in real-time via reading data from IoT sensors and prevent overcrowding in specific areas. Moreover, flow simulations dedicated to aviation enable a high-level view of the entire facility or halls and observing individual rooms.   

Diagram’s dashboard that enables a view into an airport hall.

Diagrams in Manufacturing  

Various diagrams find applications in smart solutions for manufacturing  or, more specifically, designing the production lines and collecting live data from IoT sensors. Furthermore, intelligent solutions configure different parameters such as location, sensor range, or data type. Interactive diagrams inform any alerts in real-time, so users can react quickly and prevent the issues.  

Diagram presents detailed information about a machine.

Diagrams in Data Analyzing  

Since modern business organizations deal with a large amount of valuable data regularly, diagrams are here to help in managing them. Thanks to apps that use visual components for data mining, analyzers can flick through datasets and source valuable data in the shortest possible delivery time. Interactive diagrams enable organizing and cleaning data which simplifies data mining.

Diagrams in Chatbots and Conversational Platforms  

The chatbot platforms market is one of the most competitive, and this is an excellent reason to take care of its features and user experience. This branch of business is another place where diagrams can help effectively. Interactive diagrams support chatbot designers in defining the general flow of conversation. They provide designers with a full view of the flow structure. Thanks to that, users can easily spot the missing flow elements and correct the issue. The visual solution that uses interactive diagrams also depicts documenting, studying, planning, improving, or communicating the operations.   

Diagram for a chatbot platform presenting a connection between nodes.

How to create a diagram?  

Data Visualization is an umbrella term that includes many different types and tools. Some of them are easy to create, and everyone can do this using one of the online data visualization tools.  

As for more advanced interactive diagrams that characterize multiple valuable features and deal with complex data, creators should take advantage of some rules, good practices, and technology while creating diagrams.   

Creating diagrams – main rules  

There are some main rules that you should follow to create valuable diagrams:  

  1. Set a goal  

The first step is to ask why you want to create a diagram? What is its purpose? What effect should it bring? Start off by determining what goals you want to achieve.  

  1. Know the audience  

Determine your target group – are they end-users or maybe designers who are looking for interactive diagrams to create some structures or processes? Or perhaps your diagram is going to help data analysts in performing research?   

  1. Choose the type  

Diagram’s type depends on what you want to communicate to the audience. So again, determine your goal and next pick a kind that will help people see relationships, parts of the whole, distribution, and compare data points.   

When you achieve the above three steps, continue following another seven rules to make your diagrams stand out. However, apart from rules, you can also find some good practices in diagram creation. Let’s get to know what our VP of engineering says about economizing diagrams. and how it impacts readability and performance.  

Which technology use to create diagrams? 

As for technology for creating diagrams, there are a lot of options. You can choose various programming languages, libraries, and frameworks depending on what type of diagrams you will build and what information it is going to present.   

In our opinion, one of the most popular and accessible technologies is the JavaScript programming language and its libraries. However, we also recommend specific frameworks such as React and Angular. Let’s take a closer look at these technologies.  

JavaScript and its libraries  

JavaScript is a scripting or programming language that provides users with more features for creating websites. It helps develop the websites and make a step further than creating a page that only displays data. JavaScript enables adding an interactive or animated elements to a page or animated elements, for instance, diagrams.   

To create more advanced diagrams that gather and depict complex data, developers use different libraries to make their work faster and simpler. Among various JS libraries, the one that we can recommend is GoJS. Let’s look at what GoJS is and what business and technical benefits offer.  

React and Angular  

When it comes to frameworks, the two that enable creating intuitive and useful diagrams are Angular and React. Consider taking a moment to flick through an article about which of these two technologies is more efficient for data visualization and cooperation with GoJS.   

Summary 

As you can see diagrams are much more than simple drawings that help students understand mathematics theories or grammar structures. People used to exploit them since prehistoric times to explain and understand the phenomenons around them. Today thus, they find their places in various industries, helping organize work, creating smart solutions, and developing modern companies.