A diagram is worth a thousand words
August 26, 2011 1:22 PM   Subscribe

I need to learn more about making effective diagrams to communicate complex design ideas to coworkers. What are your resources for information design for representing systems, rather than raw data/statistics?

At work we're trying to move away from text-heavy documentation to more visual representations of design ideas when communicating to the team (game designers, artists, animators, programmers, audio, etc.). A lot of times these ideas can get pretty complex - an example would be trying to communicate the leveling system in an RPG, or diagramming the relationships between weapons and enemies.

I figure there has to be some resources on ways to visually represent systems - not raw data or statistics. So far, I've found lots of stuff in data modelling and similar concepts, but the primary audience for these articles and books are all software engineers. Most information design books are focused on numbers/demographics/data or ways to make your graphs really really pretty, and neither of these are what I'm looking for.

Does anyone have resources for a more layman's approach toward data modelling? Or resources for diagramming systems that's geared toward non-technical people? Books are great, but I'm certainly open to articles, blogs, examples, or even just better keywords to plug into Google!
posted by subject_verb_remainder to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
If you're non-technical and looking for software, OmniGraffle is a great diagramming tool that comes with some organizational templates.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:25 PM on August 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Have a look at Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Dana Meadows, which ought to get the wheels turning for you.

Warning: book is sort of mind-blowing, or it was for me. Systems are...everywhere. twitch
posted by jquinby at 1:29 PM on August 26, 2011

Best answer: If you're not familiar with Edward Tufte, his books are must-read (or at least must-browse). He writes about effective communication of data in areas like epidemological mapping, and how poor visual representation of data contributed to the challenger disaster.

His books are expensive, because they're beautifully printed and visually rich, but well worth it. If your library has them, even better.

It's not a specific how-to-guide kind of resource, but you'll have such a wealth of examples and case studies that you'll get plenty of good ideas.
posted by colin_l at 1:33 PM on August 26, 2011

Best answer: Ah - Tufte also teaches one-day courses (which includes a set of his books) on his approach to infographics and data representation.
posted by jquinby at 1:35 PM on August 26, 2011

Seconding that you get acquainted with Tufte. Envisioning Information and The Visual Display of Quantitative Information are both surprisingly easy reads and some of the most value-rich books I own.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:36 PM on August 26, 2011

I used to do a lot of structured analysis when I worked in IT, and I still use (loose variations on) it when discussion complex concepts in my current not directly IT-related job. UML would also be worth looking into.
posted by rjs at 1:41 PM on August 26, 2011

Best answer: (cough) you might want to take a look at this terribly insightful post (cough)
posted by tel3path at 1:46 PM on August 26, 2011

Best answer: Taking a slightly different approach, Dan Roam's book The Back of the Napkin is a pretty good read on how to solve problems and communicate your ideas with drawing.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 2:48 PM on August 26, 2011

Response by poster: I've never heard of Edward Tufts, but I have seen one of his books around the office - I will track it down and go through it to see if that's a good direction to take (it really sounds like what I need and some of the examples are spot on, but I'm worried it's still very statistics/numbers based). I can probably convince work to reimburse me for a workshop, so I am keeping that in mind as well.

I will certainly be picking up Thinking in Systems!

The Back of the Napkin looks like it'd be very useful - I'll check if the local bookstore has it for me to flip through to see if it has enough information density in it to justify picking it up.

Structured analysis/UML has drawn my attention before, but since I'm not an engineer - and most of the people I'm communicating with aren't engineers either - I've found they're a bit too un-user friendly for me to pick up and apply to other scenarios. I've been keeping it in mind in case I can't find anything that well-structured without the IT/CS leaning.

Thanks so far!
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 5:44 PM on August 26, 2011

Dynamic Diagrams by Prof Vijay Kumar at the Institute of Design, IIT Chicago. No textbook - you may to google around for student ppts and papers. No background in CS required and meant for a general/design audience.
posted by infini at 5:51 PM on August 26, 2011

UML can be good for this but you have to think about it more loosely than most software engineers are used to. I like Martin Fowler's book UML Distilled for trying to give you the gist of the different diagram types.

It is maybe still a bit too technically focused but it does give you a standard vocabulary for describing relationships between objects, sequencing etc.
posted by crocomancer at 2:41 AM on August 27, 2011

Best answer: The UK's Open University has a free online module on Systems diagramming that might be useful.
posted by freya_lamb at 9:32 AM on August 27, 2011

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