Developing a successful UX strategy is very crucial for any product’s success. When it comes to UX design, various tools, and techniques are available to create effective digital experiences. Two common terms that are often used interchangeably, but have distinct meanings, are user journeys, and user flows. Both are used during evaluation activities and design ideation for understanding and optimizing the experience. While both are important in their own way, they serve different purposes and require different approaches.
Understanding the differences between user journeys and user flows is crucial, just as conducting thorough user research is essential in developing a strong UX strategy. In this article, we’ll understand the differences and similarities between user journeys and user flows and how they can be used effectively in UX design.
What is a user journey?
A user journey is a visual representation of the steps a user would take in interacting with any business. It helps with understanding the user’s experience and helps businesses identify areas for improvement.
The process involves mapping out all the steps a user takes, from the initial awareness of a product or service to the completion of a specific task or goal. User journeys are often depicted as a narrative, showing the different stages and actions taken by the user.
Benefits of a user journey
77% of businesses believe UX is a key competitive differentiator. A successful user journey can help in:
- Understanding the user experience from beginning to end.
- Developing strategies to increase the overall ROI.
- Understanding users’ emotions and motivations during the buying journey.
- Developing a user-centric business strategy.
- Making data-driven decisions.
- Identifying possible friction points and potential areas for improvement.
- Designing a personalized product experience and improving user flow.
Key elements of a user journey
Stakeholders need to understand the key elements of a user journey to create a UX design successfully.
- Persona – motivations, characteristics, and goals impacting the user’s behavior and decision-making.
- Emotions – experiences, feelings, and reactions of the user throughout the journey, impacting satisfaction and loyalty.
- Stages – overall steps taken by the user when interacting with a brand.
- Pain points – obstacles, challenges, or frustrations restraining the persona’s progress or satisfaction.
- Touchpoints – numerous interactions like looking into social media pages, receiving emails, or interacting with a customer support representative.
- Goals – desired objective or outcome driving the user’s behavior and decision-making.
- Metrics – quantitative measures such as customer retention or conversion rate used to assess the success of the user journey.
- Opportunities – depending on the data analysis or user feedback, finding opportunities for innovation or improvement in the user journey.
How to create a user journey map?
Here are some steps that’ll help you achieve a more realistic user journey map:
Assemble a team
Although you can start the process alone, it’s better to gather a team of people who’ll work along the mapping path because it’s not possible to finish this initiative single-handed.
Product and user target
Identify the purpose of the product/service that it can solve for different types of users.
Collect the maximum user experience and customer usage data and select the vital goals.
Plan the map skeleton
Determine all the steps the user persona undergoes, such as customer support calls, social media interactions, website visits, etc., along with your soon-to-be user journey map sections.
Add data to all the sections
Try to identify what the persona wants to attain at each stage of the user journey. Mention their actions and quotes to increase sympathy towards the persona and support the points mentioned on the journey map.
Determine pain points and find solutions
Find out where the user persona is facing difficulties, ask your team to address the pain points, and analyze how to improve the user’s experience at each stage.
Create a digital visualization
Use a user journey mapping tool to design a visual representation in the digital format.
Update the user journey regularly as and when you gather more data and feedback from the user.
What is a user flow?
A user flow is a visual representation of a user’s path to complete a specific task or achieve a goal. It maps out the sequence of actions a user needs to take, including the different pages, interactions, and decision points.
Typically, this tool focuses on the interactions a user might have with a product/ service and the technical aspect of their path. User flows are often represented with flow charts or diagrams, showing the different steps and decision points in a linear fashion.
The fundamental focus of a user flow is narrowed to a single objective when compared to a user journey.
Benefits of user flow
A user flow can be used at any stage of the designing process to map out features and technical requirements. Mapping the user flows can help in:
- Developing and redesigning interfaces.
- Strengthening the working relationships while working with the design team.
- Having a great understanding of the design of the product.
- Finding inconsistencies such as unnecessary actions, missing hints, a bugged process, buttons-to-move, etc., in the steps.
- Introducing new features related to a product.
- Communicating design ideas and collaborating with the stakeholders.
Key elements of a user flow
Stakeholders need to understand the key elements for mapping the user flow successfully.
- Entry points – such as the homepage or the landing page where the user enters the product/ service.
- Exit points – such as closing a window or completing a purchase where the user leaves.
- Actions – measures taken by the user to achieve a goal or for the successful completion of a task.
- Decision points – where the user needs to decide, like deciding whether to proceed or choose between the options available.
- Context – mindset, situation, or environment influencing the user’s behavior and decision-making.
- Feedback – confirmation message or the errors provided to the user throughout the process.
- Obstacles – challenges or barriers faced by the user while achieving the goal or completing the task.
- Time span – each step in the user flow and the overall time taken by the user to achieve the goal or complete the task.
When talking about the important components of a user flow, it’s essential to consider how to handle errors or unexpected user inputs. This means thinking about how the user will interact with your system and what might happen if they make a mistake or encounter an error.
By including error handling as a key element of your user flow, you can ensure that your system is robust and user-friendly, even in the face of unexpected challenges.
How to create a user flow chart?
Designing a user flow chart requires deep knowledge, creative thinking, and user research of the product.
Determine the purpose
Before creating a user flow chart, find out the main objective you want to achieve through a user flow chart.
Identify the user’s goal
Find out the purpose of using the app or website. User research will help find out what problems they want to solve and what type of tasks they want to complete.
Draft the steps
Design a flowchart or a diagram to list down the steps the user needs to take to achieve the goal.
Determine the decision points
Identify the points where the user needs to choose between the options available and design the possible paths that the user can take.
Add all the relevant details
Mention the inputs the user needs to provide, specific actions they need to take at each step, and the feedback they’ll receive in the user flow chart.
Test and review
Test the user flow chart with real users to find out their experience and use their feedback to improve your chart.
Share and collaborate
Make sure that your team members and stakeholders are on the same page by sharing your flow chart and making the necessary changes or updates if required.
What are the similarities between a user journey and user flow?
Now that you know the user journey and user flow in detail, it’s time to discuss the similarities between both tools.
- Both tools have a user-centered approach.
- Both help in providing the best user experience design.
- Both are used to determine the pain points, areas for improvement, and the user’s goal.
- Both require analysis and research of the user’s behavior, needs, and preferences.
- Both tools help to find out how a user interacts with a product during the entire process.
- Both are used as communication tools for the product developers and stakeholders.
- Both are used to figure out the opportunities for optimization and conversion rate optimization.
Differences: User Journey vs. User Flow
The main differences between the user journey and user flow are as follows:
A user journey is used to describe the overall experience of the user regarding a product/service, whereas a user flow is used at each step in the development and design process.
A user journey focuses on the macro-level interactions, i.e., high and broad-level view of multiple user personas at a time, whereas a user flow focuses on micro-level interactions, i.e., specific and granular view, which depicts the specific action taken by the user to achieve the goal.
What it captures
A user journey map states the emotional state, actions, and thoughts of the users and their brand perception, whereas a user flow states the details of the action taken by the user, such as the technicalities, functionality, and usability.
A user journey is a zoomed-out interaction that helps you understand the overall experience of the user at multiple touchpoints and channels, whereas a user flow is a zoomed-in interaction that states the process a user takes to attain their goal.
A user journey is represented through journey mapping or storytelling, whereas a user flow is represented visually through task diagrams or flowcharts.
A user journey is typically more complex, intricate, and generic that offers a birds-eye view of the user’s behavior across different platforms, while a user flow can be more linear and structured around one interface that captures one step at a time.
How to map out user journeys and user flows?
Now you know how to work with both tools, their differences and similarities, let’s see how they complement each other and can be used together.
A user journey mapping represents a high-level view of the user’s overall experience. In contrast, a user flow represents a more detailed and structured view of specific goals or tasks. Both design tools together help the designers identify opportunities for improvement and gain a complete understanding of the user experience.
A user flow outlines everything the audience faces when interacting with the product. All these actions together form the basis of user journey mapping stages which, when examined, can validate the technical side of the product/service and refine the user flow. It may also go vice versa, where you can start with a user journey map and process to user flow depending on the user journey stages.
Let’s check how you can map out the user journeys and user flows simultaneously within the same map.
- Divide stages into subsections
Sub-sections depict the user flows within each stage of a user journey.
- Determine the processes and channels
This section will represent a high-level view of the user flow at each stage of the user journey.
- Use text fields
Type the entire user flow in plain text in the text field section.
In this way, you can combine both tools to get a detailed overview of the user’s experience and improve it, which will result in happy customers and a more competitive product market.
Setting up in practice: case studies
Here are some examples and case studies that demonstrate how user journeys and user flows can be used in practice:
Airbnb — used user flows to optimize their booking process. They identified that some users were abandoning their bookings because they were unsure about the accuracy of the listing photos.
Airbnb created a user journey that focused on providing more context and information about the listing, such as high-quality photos, neighborhood guides, and reviews. This resulted in an increase in bookings and a decrease in abandoned bookings.
Slack — used user flows to improve the onboarding process for new users. They identified that many new users were overwhelmed by the number of channels and conversations they were added to upon joining a workspace.
Slack created a user flow that guided users through the onboarding process step-by-step, introducing them to key features and allowing them to opt-in to relevant channels and conversations. This resulted in a smoother onboarding experience for new users.
Headspace — used user flows to improve their meditation app. They identified that some users were struggling to find the right meditation content for their needs.
Headspace created a user flow that guided users through a series of questions to help identify their specific needs, such as stress relief or better sleep. This resulted in a more personalized and relevant meditation experience for users.
Starbucks — used user journeys to optimize their mobile ordering process. They identified that some users were frustrated by long wait times and confusing pickup instructions.
Starbucks created a user journey that provided more information about the pickup process, such as real-time order updates and clear pickup instructions. This resulted in a more seamless and efficient mobile ordering experience for customers.
These brands demonstrate how user journeys and user flows can be used to identify pain points in a user’s experience and create solutions that address those pain points. By mapping out the steps a user takes to achieve a specific goal, companies can identify areas for improvement and create a more streamlined and satisfying user experience.
As a market researcher, it’s crucial to understand your users’ journey to create an excellent user experience. Create a comprehensive user journey map that can help you identify pain points in the user experience and improve it accordingly. Remember to keep your users at the forefront of your research and consider their feedback to make informed decisions.
In the end, the goal is to provide an excellent user experience that will keep your users engaged with your product or service. So, keep learning, keep exploring, and keep improving!