When using the term block diagram, we are referring to a whole sub-set of system diagrams, that use a series of blocks to represent components or actions, and connecting lines that show the relationship between those blocks. They are typically low-detail, providing an overview of a process without necessarily going into the specifics of implementation. A common example of a block diagram is a flowchart, used in many fields of business as a simple way of mapping a repeated process. Software and hardware designers use them to record the design process, network managers can show the relationships between electrical systems. The principle aim is to allow a critical view to be taken on the steps in a process or system – information on physical components or construction is left to schematic diagrams or blueprints.
Not all block diagrams are the same…
Although essentially a very simple format, a variety of shapes and connecting lines, and rules and actions pertaining to them, make the block diagram a versatile tool for many forms of industry. Another attraction is the ease with which they can be constructed. Here are some examples of the sort of subject matter block diagrams can be useful for, and what style can be utilized in each case.
Quite a broad term, but you will find block diagrams used in all fields of business; at an abstract level, to describe customer intentions and management processes, to depictions of physical transactions such as product design and sales processes.
Business process modeling makes use flowcharts, control flow diagrams and data flow diagrams to show key parts of employee workflow.
Management diagrams include organizational charts, product life-cycles, and influence diagrams to make decisions and regulate the workforce.
Marketing diagrams involve decision trees, Porter’s five forces models, and strategy maps to help identify and cater for customer routine.
Finance divisions rely on accounting and audit flowcharts to record and approbation of the account strategy.
The format of block diagrams lend themselves well to system and software modeling – often these sorts of processes involve logical, binary choice relationships with a finite number of permutations or possibilities. They can be used to identify or predict possible faults in a system.
To map internal software architecture, UML diagrams, data and function models, IDEF diagrams, or functional flow block diagrams can be used. Entity-relationship diagram (ERD), SDL diagrams, systems development life cycles (SDLC) are used to describe the relationship between components within a system.
To maintain safety and reliability standards, fault tree analysis diagrams are used to find any flaws in a product or process.
Electronic engineers who need to record complex relationships between electrical components will employ a functional block diagram.
As well as describing linear system processes and patterns of product life-cycles or customer behavior, block diagrams can describe more free-form, creative diagrams for educational purposes – connecting thematic ideas and structuring concepts into a visual hierarchy for effective understanding and learning. Diagrams of this form, which can include mind maps and concept maps, bring a collaborative element to learning whereby subjects can be ‘brainstormed’ by people within a group.
Mind maps, concept maps and conceptual graphs are all concerned with learning through visualization techniques. Key areas of information regarding a subject are identified, and the diagram shows the relationship and relevance to each other.
Cycle visualization, or life cycle charts, are an effective way of showing repeated processes found in nature, weather cycles for example.
Tree diagrams express hierarchy within a subject; for instance the family tree of a monarchy, or branches of language and their subsequent dialects.