Learn all you need to know about the science behind user flow in UX; its fundamentals, types, how to create one with the right tools, user flow best practices and the role it plays in user experience.
Creating a user flow is an essential part of the UX design process. Its primary purpose is to help UX designers visualize the entire user journey as to how users navigate an app or a website. User flows take advantage of cognitive patterns to help designers understand and anticipate the mental models of users in order to create products that enable and match user expectations.
User flows help designers to simplify complex products and understand users and their problems better. This article will introduce you to the fundamentals of user flows, their creation, importance and best practices.
What is a user flow?
A user flow is a visual (digital) representation of the steps a user takes navigating through a website or application that primarily shows what happens at each step along the way.
According to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who is deemed to be the father of the flow from his famous book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience — he opined that flow is “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it”.
The user flowchart begins with the consumer’s point of entry on the product, like an onboarding screen or homepage, and ends with a desired outcome or action, which may include purchasing a product, making a transaction or signing up for an account. Visualizing this process allows UX designers to evaluate and spot opportunities to improve the user experience of the product.
There are other visualization tools that designers use to map out the product-user interaction. Some of them include ux storyboarding, experience mapping, user journey maps and service blueprint. While they are all useful for designing a user centered product, user flow is specifically effective when it comes to creating an intuitive interface and evaluating existing ones. It serves as a worthy artifact for design teams to help support design decisions and present to stakeholders as input.
What is the difference between user journey and user flow?
The key difference in these two techniques is that a journey map is more focused on understanding the user’s feelings and pain points at each stage of the journey, while a user flow is much more technical, illustrating the physical journey of the user through the software.
It is easy for people to mistake one for the other and sometimes design one without the other. However, the trick here is that one cannot do without the other in the sense that the user flow is used to represent the touch points in the user’s journey using a node.
A user flow chart designed by nngroup.
These nodes are characterized by shape, and each shape has meaning. For example, with the flowchart displayed above, a diamond indicates a decision is to be made and is therefore depicted by “Yes” and “No” arrows. A rectangle indicates a task or action that needs to be taken, like “Log in” or “Confirm”.
A user flow indicates what happens at each step in a user’s journey and it helps designers to spot where users may get confused, frustrated or possibly churn. This helps them to know what they need to change or improve to make their user experience seamless and easy.
3 reasons why user flows are important in UX design
Here are 3 main ways in which creating a user flow can be useful for the design teams:
Design an intuitive interface
The main purpose of any digital product is to help users get into a “flow” where their capacity to purchase or sign up for a product is made intuitive and easy. Working with the user flow, UX designers can understand how users act, follow their steps and create the design that guides them towards completing their goal with no roadblocks on the way.
Enhancing a product’s experience by creating an interface that users love helps to shorten decision making time for users which ultimately leads to faster sign ups and purchases and a willing user base that is ready to pay for your product.
Evaluate existing interfaces
User flows help to identify problem areas in an existing design. Some interfaces fail to remain functional when users cannot successfully complete a task or reach their goal. Building UX flow for products that are already on the market allows us to see what works well, what does not and and what needs to be improved.
Mapping out the user journey path within an interface helps you see what options the user has and also come up with alternative pathways on each page to help the user accomplish a task faster and easier.
Communicate product ideas to clients or colleagues
A UX design user flow helps you to communicate and present design ideas and updates on a product page in a clear and easy-to-digest manner. It serves as an assistance in your design presentation to stakeholders and colleagues providing a general view of how the interface you have designed is intended to work in its most efficient form.
User flows are a valuable tool in the UX designer’s toolbox. It is a design deliverable made clear for everyone (stakeholders, clients, team members) which helps to foster a product and collaborative environment.
Types of user flows in UX
The type of user flow used in a product should depend on the product requirement and needs.
There are 3 types of user flows in UX and they include:
Task flows focus on how users travel through the platform while performing a specific task. It is a one-path flowchart for a specific objective. They generally show only one path and don’t include multiple branches or pathways like a traditional user flow might.
They are useful for understanding how a user completes a task and what the order of steps is.
Wireflows are a combination of wireframes and flowcharts that show the relationship between screens and the data that flows between them. Wireframes on their own help convey the layout and design on each individual page, however they do not communicate the page-to-page flow of complex interfaces.
A low-fidelity wireflow showing a simple user task designed by nngroup.
Wireflows add page context to UX flows, since what users see on each screen greatly impacts their experience through the app or website. They are great for designing mobile apps, where each step in the flowchart is represented by a wireframe for a full mobile-screen design. Wireflows are useful for understanding the structure of a system and how the different screens connect.
Test your wireflow prototype even if created from scratch to make sure that it is intuitive and friendly for the user.
The flowchart contains several task flows which shows how users navigate through a system Users will take different steps for different conditions. User flow charts focus on the way your target audience will interact with the product. They emphasize that all users might not perform tasks the same and may travel in different paths.
They are typically attached to a specific persona and entry point. Flowcharts are useful for understanding all the different ways a user can interact with a system and what the result of each interaction is.
Here, users may take different steps for different conditions.
An accounts option user flow chart designed by Igor Maric.
How to create a user flow in 5 steps
The process of creating a successful user flow in UX can be broken down into 5 main steps:
- Define the user
- Map out the user’s tasks and goals
- Choose the right type of user flow
- Create user flow
- Test and improve
1. Define the user
In this step, make use of user behavior data obtained from UX research and use it to inform your decisions about how users interact with your products. When it comes to designing processes, it’s important to focus on who the user is and their needs. By taking the time to understand their needs, you can create user flows that are more efficient and easier to use.
After conducting research, you will know your users clearly and will gain knowledge about what actions users take when they try to use your product and services.
2. Map out the user’s tasks and goals
The purpose of creating a UX design user flow should be clear as it can determine what the users tasks and goals are. Spend time to identify the problem. Understand who your users are, where they are from, their goals and needs, and finally their tasks and objectives. Imagine the final user goal and walk back from there highlighting the steps.
To help you get a better understanding of how they interact with the product, analyze user behavior using Session Replays and Task-Based Usability Tests.
The user flow should be aligned in the direction of user goals as well as product/business goals.
Take the time to list all the necessary steps required to make these goals achieved seamlessly in advance, especially for complex user flows. It ultimately helps to make things clearer and saves time.
3. Choose the right type of user flow
There are three types of user flows, which are suitable for different needs and scenarios. For example, a wireflow is an ideal choice of user flow once the number of pages or screens and how to design these screens are known. A user flow type should be selected based on the product requirements and the goals of your project.
We recommend choosing one of the types described above: task flow, wireflow or user flowchart.
4. Create user flow
Create your desired user flow after you have done the preparatory work. You want to define what each path or step represents in the user journey. This helps to make it easier to spot inconsistencies and improve on what may not work for the user in the interface. Eg. Define what each node in a UX design user flow shapes represents if you are creating a user flow chart.
Take the user research data, specific steps you’ve defined earlier and put them all together in the structure of the user flow type of your choice.
5. Test and improve
After creating a user flow, present the final result to stakeholders and colleagues to get their input and see if it really works. Test your product or its prototype with users to observe how they navigate it and see if your user flow is accurate enough. Look out for difficulties in the form of edge cases and also spot happy paths.
UX user flow best practices
There are some best practices to adhere to that will make you design a more seamless and effective user flow:
- Considerations for Point of Entry: Point of entry is the first thing users see when they come to your website or app, and it’s important to make it intuitive and smooth. By considering the point of entry, you can ensure that users can find the information they need and that they can complete the task at hand while navigating through your product seamlessly.
- Considerations for Landing Pages: The landing page is the page that users are taken to after they click on a link or ad. It should contain just enough vital information that will be relevant to the user and whatever solution they are looking for. Do not load your landing page with too much information that may confuse or frustrate your users as this may lead to churn.
- Considerations for Process Steps: Make sure all the steps considered in the flow are necessary to help the user complete a task successfully. These steps should be clear and easy to comprehend. The user flow should be adhered to and should serve as a reference for all screens and pages that will be designed. This is to ensure that the product and user goals stay top of mind as you progress in the design process.
4 Examples of user flow
Below, we’ve gathered a couple of user flow examples that can inspire you for creating your one for your project and serve as a reference:
1. Rollo’s user flow for a Travel App
Rollo is a travel application where you can easily find and book a trip, hotel or flight. It allows you to choose your destination, decide where you want to stay and explore suggestions from the app itself. The user flows were designed for the different customer base which the business serves including: the planner mom, busy guy and adventurer.
Rollo’s user flow for the planner mom persona. Source: Behance
This user flow streamlines the journey of planner mom by allowing the user to search for tours early in the flow before sign up. Taking the goals and motivations of the user into consideration, the user flow maps out the decision point for when the user finds a tour. They are now allowed to login and continue with the journey up until the final task and user goal which is to book a trip.
It is important to design user flows to represent the various user stories and journey maps. This will help to ensure that you design pathways that work for all of the different segments of your target audience. Having this represented in your user flow helps to account for different user choices, and design with empathy and clarity in mind.
Partner’s community app is focused on building friendships and community for the elderly. Its goal is to help reduce loneliness and social isolation among the elderly. The user group for this product was between ages 50-60yrs from various backgrounds and lifestyles with different latent needs and goals.
Partner’s easy to navigate user flow diagram. Source: Behance.
The easy to navigate user flow for setting up a partner account identifies the challenges that elderly people may have such as early stage dementia and cognitive issues. Such problems would often lead to them forgetting their passwords and or how to log in to their mobile app.
With this in mind, the onboarding flow was designed using face ID and thumbprint to ensure that they can continue to do so easily without assistance and the pain of remembering passwords and pins.
Shots of the screen face ID in the onboarding flow.
An image of Partner’s onboarding screen flow. The user flow includes decision points where the user’s journey to the desired goal can differ and this may be based on decisions the user needs to make while navigating through the design. This is a great example of an effective use of user flows.
3. E-bikee bicycle renting user flow
The e-bikee is a Mobile app that helps users to rent bicycles from an automated bicycle station. E-bikee’s goal is to help their users avoid all wait times and reach their destination with a bicycle at an affordable rate. The user flow shows the users’ pathway through the design at hand.
E-bikee’s user flow diagram. Source: Behance
A series of task flows are also embedded in the user flow showing the high level steps that the user would take to successfully book a bicycle. The user flow is intuitive and proves to help the user order an e-bikee in record time.
The functionalities and features are designed to suit the user needs of spending time efficiently by cutting back on commute time in car traffic, affordable means of transportation and to learn how to ride a bike better.
The flow presents these solutions with clear instructions in a neat order of hierarchy whereby the user is never lost in their journey and could also have other pathways to achieve a task for different user groups.
4. JazzBurger’s user flow
JazzBurger is a classic burger house with live jazz music and an america aesthetic that serves ready to eat burgers for people who are on the go and need to refresh themselves physically or online. Their user flow enables users to order food (burgers) directly on their website.
JazzBurger’s user flow diagram. Source: Behance
The user flow consists of a simple step by step task flow which leads to a desired goal of successfully ordering food online. The user is presented with a decision to make after browsing through the food category. This user flow also allows for user personalization by giving users control to customize their order to suit their taste. This is very helpful for keeping users on a happy path as they move closer to their goal while navigating through the interface (website).
The user is also able to make an order quickly as the decision points are clear and straight to the point. The flow focuses on just one task at a time until the user goal is accomplished.
Once you are able to identify the user goals for your product, break down and streamline tasks into smaller bits as you embed them into your user flow. This will help you spot and eliminate “dead ends” which may ultimately leave users stranded or distract them from their actual goal.
Keep user flow consistent with your users’ mental models, ensure that users are able to make a choice or decision where needed and finally make information on the interface as clear as possible in order to simplify navigation.
Designing a UX design user flow can be done easily with the help of online tools and software. Here’s a list of tools to help you design your next user flow:
- Axure – Axure helps you to design effective user flows with features like icons, connecting nodes, and shapes that can work for creating a user flow for UX design.
- Figma – Figma is an industry leading professional design tool that can be also used to create user flows. Figma can create wire-flows and task flows at different levels of low and high fidelity depending on product requirements. They also have tons of user flow templates you can borrow!
- Xmind – XMind is a professional mind map tool that helps you create task flow and flowcharts with teams easily. It is an easy to use brainstorm tool made to spark, capture and represent ideas freely with pre-set structures. You can also add notes, labels, and stickers to make your task flow and flowchart come alive and convey ideas in the best possible way.
- UXtweak – UXtweak is a powerful research tool used for understanding user behaviors, needs, wants and preferences. Use it to gather information about how users interact with your product to inform the creation of your user flows with real data.
Understand users’ journey through your product with user flows
User flow is essential in many UX design projects and is a practical way to understand how your users navigate through your website or app. When users can easily flow through an interface without confusion or frustration, you automatically enhance the credibility and likability of your product which helps to put you ahead of competitors.
User flows are a great tool for any designer’s toolbox as they can assist in evaluating the efficiency and simplicity of your design by providing a visual representation of your ideas which you can easily communicate with colleagues and stakeholders as well as test with early users to get feedback on where to improve the user experience of your product.
Create your next user flow by starting with research: learning about the user, their needs and goals and select the right type of user flow that will fit your requirements and use case.
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