What Is User Flow?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Considering user flow in the UX design process is important. Learn more about this key concept and how it differs from user journey.

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User flow is a way for user experience (UX) designers to understand how users will interact with or navigate through their product, such as a website or mobile app. Similar to how architectural plans or blueprints help you visualize the layout of buildings, user flows help map out the visual sequence of user interactions and navigation paths within a product—a key step toward ensuring a smooth and intuitive user experience.

What Is User Flow?

User flow refers to all the possible paths users might take while interacting with a website, application, or other product to achieve a successful outcome. For example, when a user visits your website, they will navigate through it to find what they are looking for. They could do so by clicking buttons, following links, or interacting with the products in another way. 

Each user interacting with your product will have unique goals and follow their paths to accomplish them. A user flow visualizes the total paths users will take when completing a task on your product.

What is user flow used for?

UX designers use user flow to gain insight into making it easier for customers to use the product how they want to. User flow helps designers anticipate obstacles that customers might face and smooth the customer’s journey. Other benefits of user flow include:

  • Better user experience: User flow helps you design with the user experience in mind.

  • More intuitive products: Thinking about the steps your customers will take to navigate your product helps you create products that are easier to understand from the customer’s point of view.

  • Communicating with stakeholders: User flow charts and diagrams can help demonstrate how customers use the product to senior leadership and other stakeholders.

  • Swift product development: Developing user flow charts before launching product features helps design teams identify and address issues early on, reducing the likelihood of unanticipated delays or rework.

Read more: User Experience (UX) Terms: A to Z Glossary

What is a good example of user flow?

Let's look at what it might look like to order food phone and the user flow involved:

1. Start: User opens the restaurant's website or app.

2. Browse menu: User browses the menu and selects desired items.

3. Customize: User chooses customization options, such as size, sides, and toppings.

4. Add to cart: User adds items to their cart.

5. Checkout: User proceeds to checkout and enters their delivery address.

6. Payment: User selects a payment method and enters their payment information.

7. Confirmation: The user receives an order confirmation with an estimated delivery time.

User flow vs. user journey: What's the difference?

User flow and user journey are similar concepts but have different uses and cover different areas of UX design.

  • User flow refers to navigating or interacting with a specific product for a specific task.

  • User journey refers to the complete process and interaction a customer has with a product in a given scenario. For example, it may involve the first time they learn about the product and eventually use or purchase it. In other words, the user journey is a more complex process, often stretching across channels and measuring different touchpoints between the company and the customer.

How to design a user flow 

The specific steps to create a user flow may vary among firms. However, most approaches include the following steps: 

1. Define user and business objectives. 

Business objectives are what you want visitors to do on your site, like signing up for a free trial or making a purchase. However, these goals may not always align perfectly with what users seek from your brand. To better understand user objectives, consider creating user personas or customer journey maps. After identifying your users' goals, you can design or modify the user flow to provide relevant solutions before ultimately guiding them toward your business objective (endpoint). 

2. Identify potential user entry points. 

List all the ways users might find your brand, product, or website. The paths they take to reach your site reveal valuable insights into their needs and the time it takes for them to reach your desired outcome (endpoint). Typical entry points in your user flow diagram could include organic search engine results, direct visits, email campaigns, social media platforms, or paid advertisements.

3. Pinpoint the information your users are seeking.

To ensure your user flow is effective, it's crucial to connect the dots between the endpoint and the various entry points of your user flow. Doing so requires finding answers to questions such as: 

  • What specific questions do consumers have about your product?

  • What information is crucial for them to take the next step?

Buyer personas and customer journey maps can be valuable tools for answering these questions. Your findings will direct how you showcase, spotlight, or order information on your website. 

For example, if visitors frequently discover your website through social media and then proceed to your customer testimonials page, it indicates their interest in hearing from satisfied customers. To enhance this interaction, you may prominently feature compelling testimonials on landing pages or provide easy navigation to the testimonials section from product pages. This approach can boost credibility and reassure potential customers, positively impacting their decision-making process.

4. Visualize user flow using tools.

Once you understand your users’ needs and motivations, you can map your user flow using a digital whiteboard or collaborative software such as Lucidchart or Figma. Standard design symbols you may use in your user flow include:

  • Ovals: Mark start and end points

  • Arrows: Indicate the user's path

  • Parallelograms: Denote user inputs, like contact details

  • Diamonds: Signify decision points

5. Use feedback to assess your user flow’s effectiveness.

Validate your user flow diagram by circulating it among your organization's designers, product engineers, sales representatives, and other relevant teams. Feedback from varied departments can help uncover hidden or overlooked friction points.

Tips for optimizing your user flow

The following pointers can help you make your user flow more user-centric, potentially leading to higher conversion rates.  

1. Center each user flow around a single objective. 

It is possible to create user flows that cover multiple aspects of your product or website. However, introducing multiple goals or tasks can complicate the flow, making it less effective. By focusing exclusively on one specific user goal or path, you can ensure your user flow remains clear and coherent. 

2. Perform A/B testing.

A/B testing compares two versions of an email newsletter, a web page, or an app. It is a reliable approach for validating changes to your user entry points, site, or app. A/B testing lets you review your user flows and experiment with different ideas to ascertain which version achieves better outcomes.

3. Improve the load speed of your web pages.

Page speed, or load speed, indicates the rate at which a page's content loads. Slow loading times can hinder user experience and increase bounce rates. You can address this issue by minimizing plugins and employing caching techniques.

Is a short user flow invariably superior? 

A shorter user flow isn't automatically indicative of a better experience than a longer one, especially if it compromises potential user interactions. The length of a user flow largely depends on the nature of the task and industry vertical, among other factors.

For example, the user flow for booking a one-time online appointment with a health care provider is typically brief and straightforward. In contrast, booking a customized vacation package that includes booking flights and accommodations requires navigating a more detailed user flow.

Learn more about user flow with Microsoft and Coursera.

User flow helps UX designers understand how users navigate a product to complete tasks. If you're ready to develop your UX skills, consider Microsoft's UX Design Professional Certificate program. This beginner-level series focuses on UX research, accessibility, UX design, and other human-centric design fundamentals.

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