A Beginner's Guide to User Flows
What is a User Flow?
In basic terms, a user flow is a visual representation of how users move through your app or website. User flows can help you:
Organize paths that take users toward a main goal, such as downloading software or signing up for a trial.
Build and optimize your product or website content.
Test and evaluate paths with real users before a critical implementation or launch.
Basic Principles of a User Flow
You can sketch a user flow diagram in a variety of ways. But before committing to any specific method, it’s important to go through some basic guidelines.
You must first figure out the business objective of the flow itself. This might be guiding users to make a purchase, signing up for a newsletter, or opting in for a free trial of a service. Flows that fail to satisfy these objectives don’t offer value—to you or your end users.
Additionally, there are often subcategories of users who will go through your flow, even though they aren’t your target audience. Therefore, make sure you have defined paths to address the journey for these outliers as well.
Keep Your Audience in Mind
Another critical aspect of user flow is understanding your ideal user. Designing a flow from the user perspective means taking into consideration your audience’s pain points, level of expertise, and preferences. Doing this effectively enables a product team to lay paths that are more likely to be trusted and followed.
For example, a user flow for a newsletter subscription may consist of a homepage, a benefits to signing up page, and the newsletter signup flow itself. While it makes sense that some users would want to learn about the newsletter benefits, others may head directly to the signup flow. Hence, it’s important to collect some data on user’s needs and motivations before sketching anything.
Create a Basic Mockup Before Building a Prototype
Designing a basic mockup of your user flow provides a rough understanding of the app or website user flow pages and how they connect to each other. This principle is based on a relatively straightforward concept – user flows should be treated like ongoing conversations.
Think of it this way: you’d need several hours to design the right prototype, and then you’d need to update it any time user flow requirements change, which happens often. With a mockup, you don’t have to revisit and make changes, and there’s enough time to iterate and arrive at a better outcome.
Refine and Improve via Prototyping
Refining a user flow is a continuous cycle of building, learning, and testing, and it’s easy to get lost in this complex journey. Fortunately, creating a prototype can help you validate that the flow is designed accordingly to your business objectives and end user expectations. Prototypes depict how the path will work, and they’re usually driven by:
Business goals and KPIs
Entry and exit points
Number of available paths
Type of users and devices
Essentially, the user flow prototype will serve as the foundation that makes it easy for you to filter details for your Interaction Design, User Interface, and Information Architecture. Because user experience is the sum of multiple parts, identifying potential barriers, gaps, or pain points in user flows during the prototyping stage is key to delivering a smooth experience that users not only grow to appreciate, but reciprocate by contributing to the achievement of your objectives.
User Flow Examples
User flows come in several different shapes and sizes. The structure, ultimately, depends on the nature of the app or website you’re aiming to build. For example, a user flow of booking a hotel room often follows this structure:
Select a destination
Arrive at listings
Click on a listing
View pricing, availability, and other details
Make a booking
Confirm and pay
This is a linear user flow. For most apps and websites, user flow isn’t linear at all—it’s typically distorted by decision nodes and other barriers. For example, the user flow of hotels and similar websites might include comparing a listing with alternatives or multiple dropoffs (as accommodations on competing websites could be less expensive).
How to Optimize User Flows
How do you make it easier for your users to move through the different steps of your flow? Here’s a list of steps you can take to positively impact your user experience.
If you’re building an app that’s laser-focused on downloads, A/B test your conversion paths to identify which option your audience responds to more. By measuring different user flows with behavioral analytics, you can validate your hypotheses and eliminate suboptimal paths.
Use Shapes to Your Advantage
You can leverage shapes like diamonds, ovals, and rectangles in a multitude of ways to support user flows. For example, designers often use rectangles to set a background in a certain area of the flow, while diamonds can tell a user that they need to branch out in a different direction. In early stages, shapes can be even more crucial: diamonds can be leveraged for decision points and ovals can be used to connect two subflows.
Offer Visual Feedback
User flows without feedback can result in interaction friction. When users take a step and don’t get an acknowledgement that they contributed to the flow, they think the flow doesn’t work. This may cause a rapid increase in clicks as users attempt to get through, resulting in flow errors. Designing interacting elements can help alleviate doubts.
Find and Create “Aha Moments”
Companies are always looking for how to predict engagement within their product. In one famous example, Facebook found that people who reached 7 friends in 10 days were more likely to remain engaged with the product over time than those who didn’t. So they spent a lot of time and resources to increase the number of people who met this condition. Although this approach is valid, it misses a major piece: the aha moment. Watch Chameleon founder and CEO Pulkit Agrawal explain this concept below.
Leveraging User Flow Analytics
User flows will always remain an integral part of any organization’s development and design processes. They enable UX and product designers to zero down on the most preferable experience and user journey. Therefore, if you create an app or website in the exact same manner as outlined in the prototype, you may be able to track the user experience with analytics. Heap offers an analytics infrastructure that enables you to track and measure the common flows within your product. Using these insights, product designers can identify the best experience for audiences and most efficient path to conversion.
To learn more, try Heap for free.