Immerse customers in your digital product with the ultimate user flow.
In design work, UI/UX designers develop user flows on websites to help site visitors navigate from entry to exit. Whether you’re a seasoned designer or new to the craft, perfecting this takes time. Let’s explore key user flow features and how they strengthen your web designs.
What is a user flow?
User flows are diagrams outlining the logical path a user takes when exploring a website, app, or other digital product. This diagram maps out the user's entire experience, from the initial access point to the last interaction, detailing each touchpoint along the way. It’s a visual tool meant to illustrate relationships between a site and visitor, their prospective interactions, and the results of those actions.
UX designers and product managers can assess and improve the user experience in a number of ways, from simplifying the checkout process to making navigation elements more visible. These subtle tweaks go a long way in driving traffic to specific areas of a website and boosting conversion rates. When visitors are invested in the digital product, they stick around the website longer, and this makes them more likely to convert.
User flow versus user journey
People often confuse the term “user flow” with “user journey.” However, it’s essential to understand the difference between these two UX concepts.
Let’s start by defining them.
A user flow is a diagram outlining a site visitor's website experience from start to finish. The user flow begins when someone enters a website or app and ends when they exit. On the other hand, the user journey encompasses the full context of a customer's experience, including offline and online influences and advertisements. User flow is just one aspect of the overarching user journey.
A user flow focuses on the micro aspects of the user experience and examines how consumers interact with products at a granular level. A user flow might map a customer’s interaction with a website from the moment they enter the site until they click on a call-to-action (CTA), noting every potential movement and decision along the way, including whether they made a purchase or leave the site and which pages they viewed before making the decision.
The user journey, however, focuses on the macro aspects of the user experience. User journeys map out consumer actions from a broad perspective rather than focusing on the nitty-gritty.
In essence, user flow hones in on the nuanced interactions and technical aspects of a visitor's decisions when navigating a website. Meanwhile, the user journey focuses on the entire path the consumer takes to get there in the first place. This includes their motivations, what they’ve learned about the product — and where they learned it — as well as whether they made a purchase or bounced somewhere along the way.
How to create a user flow
If you want to create a strong user flow, you must first understand your target audience. Learning about their expectations, wants, and motivations helps you make educated decisions that provide a smooth experience.
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Identify your user’s objectives and paths
Consider the following questions when creating a user flow:
- What are your visitor’s needs?
- What problems do they want to resolve?
- What design features are necessary to help them educate themselves?
- Do they have any concerns about your product that you can address?
Key pathways are all possible user paths someone might take to achieve their final objective on a website. They're often the most straightforward routes from one spectrum of the user flow to another, such as from signing up to setting up an account.
The below example created by Jayme Wong shows a user flow for an app that allows users to add travel itineraries within a mobile app.
Keep these pathways simple. If a visitor wants to sign up for a weekly newsletter, ask for their email address. This is easier than requesting a phone number to send a text message with a link to the newsletter, adding an unnecessary step in the user flow.
Ask yourself, "Does this feature need to be here?" If the answer isn’t an absolute yes, cut it. Identifying these key pathways helps you create a compelling user flow that weeds out unnecessary steps.
Outline the flow
Outline a basic wireflow (a combination of a wireframe and flowchart) with a project’s team members and stakeholders, similar to a mockup or a mind map (a visual representation used to broadly organize each element). This wireflow breaks down into three primary stages:
- Entry point: The onboarding of the user flow where a visitor opens a website or mobile app and experiences the user interface (UI) for the first time. It’s essential to have a strong UI design to keep your visitor from clicking away.
- Map leading up to completion: The interactive steps between entry and last interaction. Here, the visitor experiences the website or app’s functionality, so it’s crucial to have the best key pathways to make the journey as seamless as possible.
- Last interaction: The final step in your site’s user flow process. All the user’s actions lead to this point when they click on a CTA or make a purchase and complete the user flow.
Use shapes to create a final product
Designers depict a distinct set of features within a website's user flow using specific shapes. Each shape represents an interaction or potential interaction, providing the reader with more details about each stage's functionality during the user flow process. These are some commonly used shapes and their meanings:
- Circles: Circles typically represent actions throughout the user flow. They’re decision points where the visitor must move from one section of a website to the next. For example, circles on a user flow diagram may represent entry to the site, the visitor’s choice when selecting from a list of options, their decision to order, and closing the site.
- Rectangles: Rectangles often represent display features of the digital product, such as entering the site. The rectangle could be a display informing the visitor they must select a task, whereas the actual selection action would be a circle.
- Diamonds: Diamonds typically correspond to visitor decisions. These aren’t features of the website — they indicate the consumer’s thought process. For example, if a visitor must select from a list of options, the following decision (represented by a diamond) could be, “Is this option correct?”
- Lines with arrows: Lines with arrows connect each step of the journey and establish the sequential flow of the diagram. They guide a reader from one point to the next and create a clear path, either from top to bottom or left to right. Dashed arrows can represent backtracking a visitor may take — if they choose the wrong option from a list, they can click back.
Remember that there isn't one correct way to construct a user flow — each website's diagram will be unique according to its purpose and target audience. What's important is to develop a cohesive user flow with consistent shapes, colors, and elements so the reader can easily understand and follow along.
Continue your UX path
User flows create a seamless website experience with the least friction possible. They allow designers to identify and fix problems early in the design process by removing unnecessary portions before investing valuable time.
To create the best user flow possible for your UX design, it's essential to use dependable prototyping tools with the right guidance. At Webflow, we offer resources that set you on the right path to building a solid user flow. Check out our free learning resources in Webflow University and level up your UX design skills.