User journey and user flow are two tools that are used to describe
the process of interaction between a user and a product. Many designers
consider user journey and user flow the same thing. While both tools are used
to communicate your designs through the lens of your users’ goals, they aren’t
synonyms because they focus on different aspects of created products.
In this article, I will make a comparison
of “user journey vs user
What is User Flow?
The term ‘flow’ depicts movement. Product
creators need to consider the path in which the user will navigate through the
website or app, prompting the creation of user flow. This path is divided into
a series of steps that the user takes from the entry point through conversion
funnels towards the final action (signup, purchase, etc.).
Example of user flows
A typical example of purchase flow for the
eCommerce website would go as follows:
- The user starts on the home page;
- From the home page, the user
navigates to a product category;
- In a product category page, the
user selects a specific item and navigates to the item details page;
- On the item details page, the
user adds an item to the cart and navigates to the cart page;
- From the cart page, the user
navigates to checkout;
- From the checkout page, the
user completes the purchase and sees a confirmation page.
The above example of a user flow is what we call
a ‘happy path’— a simplified version of the user flow with a successful
outcome. In real life, there can be a lot of alternative paths—the user usually
wants to compare different products, read information about delivery, and so
on. That’s why user flows are typically modeled as flow charts with many nodes
for various paths that a user might take.
What role do user flows have in design?
User flows are a great method for
segmenting and defining your user experience. They allow you to track what
screens users typically see when they interact with a product and how they
interact with those screens.
The user flow is very effective when it
comes to communication with developers. Well-designed user flows have a screen
name and a description of what happens at each step. This information is
beneficial during the implementation phase of the design process.
When should you use user flows?
User flows are beneficial when a product team works on information architecture and UI design of individual screens. User flows help the team to create an intuitive interface. User flows are also very helpful for evaluating existing interfaces. So the team can use this tool during design review sessions.
What to consider when building a user flow
The users’ objectives and business
objectives are two of the most important things that you need to consider when
designing user flows. The process of building a user flow starts with
understanding the user’s needs and wants. This understanding will help a
product team to design a flow that will meet those needs. Business objectives
are the action (or actions) you want users to take. Business objectives might
be getting users to sign up for something, purchase products, or join the email
list. Start with user objectives and match them to the business objectives.
Here are a few basic questions you need to
consider to build a strong user flow:
- What is the user trying to
- What information does the user
need to do it?
- What barriers might prevent
users from accomplishing a goal?
To answer these questions, you need to conduct user research. A series of interviews with your existing or potential users will help you find answers to the questions.
How to improve user flow
The key to designing great user flow is to
present the right information at the right time while minimizing friction along
the way. Users will be more likely to convert if the product provides the
information they need at the moment they need it. Try to ask for the minimum
amount of information in order to reduce the total number of taps/clicks
required to reach a goal.
You need to:
- Create a flow diagram. A flow diagram (also known as a flowchart) is a diagram of the sequence of movements or actions of people or things involved in a complex system or activity. This diagram is a skeleton for your user flow.
- Visualize the flow. If you have an existing product, take screenshots of the different pages, and create connections between them in a tool like Adobe XD. If you’re designing a new product, you can draw simple sketches or do wireframing for individual pages.
- Describe what users do at each step. Write out what the user needs to do at each step to meet the goal.
The user flow is typically evaluated based on
the conversion rate. That’s why the process of optimization starts with finding
steps that cause friction. The product team finds the dropouts—steps where
users leave without finishing the goal. For example, for a purchase flow that
we’ve mentioned above, the dropouts can happen at the checkout step. Cart
abandonment is one of the most common problems that many eCommerce products
face. The product team needs to measure every step and see what causes friction
in order to prevent it during future interactions.
Once you’ve generated a hypothesis on how to reduce friction on a particular step, you should design a solution and validate it. If you have a few different solutions, you can A/B test them to see which one works the best.
What is User Journey?
A user journey (or user journey map) is a
visual trip of the user across the solution. The user journey considers not
only the steps that a user takes but also their feelings, pain points, and
moments of delight. It’s a visualization of an individual’s relationship with a
product over time and across different channels. Channels are methods of
communication or service delivery, such as the website or physical store. The
user can have an excellent user experience in one channel (i.e. on a website
when they purchase an item) but a terrible experience in another (i.e. in a
physical store where they try to return the item). When we collect information
about channels, it helps us to uncover gaps in the user experience.
In comparison with user flow, the user journey does not focus solely on
individual states and elements that trigger those states; they have several
layers of information — users’ feelings, thoughts, etc.
Example of user journey
While the user journey comes in many
different formats, commonly, it’s represented as a timeline of all touchpoints
between a user and a product. The timeline also contains information about all
channels that users utilize to interact with a product.
What role does a user journey have?
The goal of creating a user journey map is
to create a shared vision. A user journey map is an excellent tool for product
teams because it visualizes how a user interacts with a product and allows
designers to see a product from a user’s point of view. A well-designed user
journey tells a story of how a person interacts with a product.
The journey is well understood by people
not related to the design industry. That’s why user journeys are very effective
for communicating ideas with stakeholders.
When to use user journeys?
User journeys work best when the product team wants to understand the entire experience from the user’s standpoint. It usually happens during design review sessions – when the team released a product on the market, collected feedback, and now wants to prioritize requests for new features or improvements. User journeys help the team to prioritize tasks per the user’s needs.
What to consider when building a user journey
To build a decent user journey, you need
- User persona
- Scope / Scenario of interaction
(with expected outcome)
A user journey is always focused on the experience of one main actor – a target persona. That’s why, before starting work on your user journey, you need to have a clear answer to the question, “Who is my user?” User persona templates should always be created based on the information you have about your target audience. That’s why always start with user research. Having solid information about your users will prevent you from making false assumptions.
Next, you need to define the scope. The
scope of the user journey can vary from the high-level map, which shows
end-to-end experience to a more detailed map that focuses on one particular
interaction (for instance, paying a bill). The scenario describes the actual
situation that the journey map addresses. It can be real or anticipated.
Touchpoints are user actions and
interactions with the product/business. It’s vital to identify all main
touchpoints and all channels associated with each touchpoint.
For example, for touchpoint “Buy a product,” channels can be — purchase online or buy in a store.
How to improve a user journey
Journey maps should result in truthful narratives, not fairy tales. That’s why one of the best ways to design a better user journey is to put a lot of focus on user research. Consider the user motivation (Why is the user trying to do something?) as well as common pain points (What challenges are users facing along the way?). It’s also important to consider the channels (Where do interaction take place?). You need to ensure that the user is getting the same level of quality of service across channels.
Put together all the information you have and sketch a journey in a format of a step-by-step interaction. Each step demonstrates an experience that the persona has with a service, as well as the emotional response they have.
Even when a user journey is based on user
research, it’s vital to validate it. Use the information from usability testing sessions and app analytics to be sure
that your journey resembles a real use case.
After reading this comparison of user journey vs user flow,
you will know when and how to use those tools in your product design. If
creating a great user experience is your goal, you will need to add user flows
and user journeys in your toolbox. Remember that it’s hard (or nearly
impossible) to design a perfect user experience right from the start. You need
to experiment and try various approaches before you find one that will work
best for your users. But one thing’s for sure, user journeys and user flows will help you create a solid foundation
for your experiments, and it will ultimately lead to the great UX.