What Is a Flow Map?


The term "Flow map" came from cartography. It is a particular combination of maps and flow diagrams, where the width of the arrows is determined with the flow volume — so-called Sankey diagrams.

Flow maps are used to display animal migrations, people traveling, money flow, trade traffics, etc. The arrows show direction, while the width illustrates the quantity. If to answer 'what is flow map?', we will say it is a handy instrument to show any species movement because it provides two types of data at the moment — the location and the volume.

Flow maps are important because they demonstrate the quantity contrast of huge item variety on a vast territory. That provides a fuller image of weather changes, traffic patterns, as well as reconstructed historical processes, military actions, and so on.

There are several types of flow maps — network, radial, and distributive.

Network Flow Map

The network flow diagram shows object movements from one location to another inside a chosen network, often associated with trade or transport traffic. Thus, it displays real itinerary with information of the objects' amount. The good example here is Barcelona airport network flow, showing 163 air routes it serves and their directions:

Flight routes map
Flight routes flow map

Radial Flow Map

Radial flow maps display connections between a point and numerous directions using divided lines of specified width, resembling spokes. The accurate route here does not matter as much as the general direction, incoming or outcoming. For instance, this network flow map demonstrating the volume of commodities trade:

Map of trade routes
Trade flow map

Distributive Flow Map

Distributive flow maps, like radial flows, show the only schematic path taken from the object to the destination. They have other structure, though  — the flow lines diverge to destination points. As an example, this flow map, illustrating the disease spreading:

Spread of Disease flow map
Spread of Disease flow map

To build a clear flow map of any type, it is enough to hold simple principles:

  • take arrows with heads
  • use larger arrowheads for thin flow lines
  • make arrows width proportionally to flow rate 
  • arrange flows with nodes
  • avoid overlapping of flows and arrowheads

Process Flowchart

In product creating, we can also distinguish a special type of flow maps tailored to the working process. It is called a process map or a process flowchart. It shows the set of actions needed for reaching a particular aim. 

Process mapping helps to enhance work efficiency, providing a better understanding of each stage. It is used in manufacturing, management, service process, or digital production. Process mapping highlights areas of potential improvement, as well as demonstrates the sense of the process to the entire working team — everyone is aware of where to go and what to do. Finally, process maps clear document flow and help to build up a working plan.

To create a process map offline, you need to have a board with stickers and make the following:

  1. Distinguish the process for mapping. It is a good idea to formulate its title, too 
  2. Find the aim of the process and fix them
  3. Determine the frames of your process: the terms of execution, the detail scale
  4. Discover a set of activities needed to achieve the aims of the process
  5. Arrange actions in the appropriate order
  6. Connect the activities with flow arrows
  7. Check the process map with your entire team

If you are looking for a convenient digital tool for creating process flow, look at FlowMapp instruments. "User flow" template contains a set of elements you may use to create not only user flow but also process flowchart. Each item can be customized based on your needs. You can also add some images and use 80+ built-in icons to make your process map easy to get. All included in free trial, supporting one solid project.