Shapes and Images in Dataviz: Making Choices for Optimal Communication

If you use good judgment in choosing chapes and images to add to your data visualizations, your audience will be enlightened.

Shapes and images in dataviz are new to many of my customers. I serve a lot of customers in the healthcare and public health domain who have not been formally trained in business applications or computer science. So they do not recognize some common flow chart shapes and images in dataviz that have a particular meaning, and therefore, they do not understand that meaning.

For example, sometimes I see learners using cloud or cloudlike shapes and images in dataviz where there is no network or internet being depicted in the visualization. What I realized is that they do not know that there are certain shapes that always mean something in visualizations. Some are from traditional flowchart shapes, and others are just useful shapes for visual communication. I’ll go over a few of my favorites here.

Watch the video to learn more about flow chart shapes in PowerPoint!

Shapes and Images in Dataviz: Useful Flow Chart Shapes

There are roughly two kinds of shapes and images used in data curation: Official flow chart shapes, and other images that are helpful for communication. Here, I will describe a few flow chart shapes I like to use in my data curation.

The terminator shape is useful for indicating a process is starting or stopping.

Terminator Shape

This hot dog shape represents the beginning or the end of a process. More than one process can start or end with a terminator shape. It helps the reader know where to start reading the diagram.

The predetermined process shape is useful because it suggests you planned the process.

Predetermined Process

This rectangle shape with an extra set of parallel lines indicates a predetermined process. The rectangle shape alone without the extra lines is just a process – but I like to use the predetermined process shape because I always have some sort of policy dictating the process!


This diamond shape represents a decision. Usually, there are one or more arrows going into it, and then one arrow coming out that says what happens if “yes”, and the other arrow for what happens if “no”. If you have a multiple choice situation, you have to reduce it to several yes/no scenarios and do a decision tree.

Using Other Shapes and Images in Dataviz

Although the shapes and images I go over here aren’t official flowchart shapes, they are very helpful in visualizations and data curation.

This can image represents data. It can mean a whole database, or just an Excel sheet of data.

Data Shape

This can shape represents a database. It could be seen as a data source, or even a spreadsheet. It could also represent any sort of data system or data store.

A cloud in a data visualization generally represents the internet, but it can represent some other type of network.


This cloud graphic usually represents the internet, but it can also represent a network of some sort. It means that data are passing through a particular environment. Internet clouds can be different shapes.

You can engage in online group mentoring and learn from data scientists who are working on different portfolio projects.

Icons, Clip Art, or Other Graphics

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. This graphic is one I use a lot to indicate a videoconference, or else an online course (in an application pipeline). I generally get royalty-free graphics like this from Pixabay, but there are a lot of sources.

Callouts can help you provide explanation and text especially in the form of user feedback.

Callouts or Voice Balloons

Sometimes callouts are helpful because they indicate what people are saying or thinking. They can be used to indicate feedback or discussion.

Updated October 1, 2023.

Try all of our courses and learning programs!

Applications Basics for Data Analysts and Statisticians

Applications basics are now essential knowledge if you want to do data science in healthcare. [...]


Data Curation Course: Learn Data Curation Online from LinkedIn Learning!

Curation files are especially helpful for communicating about data on teams. Learn more about what [...]

Data Reduction Diagram Enables Data Scientists to Evaluate Selection Bias

Data reduction diagram is used for evaluating selection bias. If you want to be seen [...]

Data Science of Data Collection: Free Course and Course Series!

Learn the “data science of data collection” through my free introductory course! If you want [...]

Data Close-out Course: Learn How to do Data Close-out Online!

Data close-out course is what you need if you want to combine data from multiple [...]

PowerPoint for Visualizations: A Simple Tool for Minimizing Complexity

PowerPoint for visualizations is an easy choice – but you have to do a lot [...]

Excel for Managing Research: Learn How to Use Microsoft Excel as a Research Management Tool

Excel for Managing Research is a short, practical course that will give you the skills [...]

Learn to Use SAS ODA (OnDemand for Academics) in my FREE Online Course!

Want to get started with SAS, but don’t want the headache? I make it easy [...]


Shapes and images in dataviz, if chosen wisely, can greatly enhance the communicative value of the visualization. Read my blog post for tips in selecting shapes for data visualizations!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Verified by MonsterInsights