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Understanding User Flows in UX (User Experience) Design

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Carl Neumann
June 15, 2022

Understanding User Flows in UX (User Experience) Design

Many steps make up the process of UX research and design. Today, we will look at the preceding stage in the user experience discovery process - User Flows.

What is a User

Firstly, let’s look at who and what is a “User”. A user requires something physical or has a particular problem they want to solve. It could be as simple as opening a door or using a complex mobile application to manage their business.

When designing websites or applications, it’s essential to understand that a User is always a PERSON; they are a living, breathing entity that will use the product for some gain or improvement to their life.

A good UX experience leaves a person feeling like they succeeded in accomplishing something. After using a well designed application, they may say something like, “I purchased that new bag in just four clicks!” or “Finally, I found a mobile app that helps me manage my finances.”

Whatever the response, their problem must be solved, and their goal easily reached.

XXWhat is a User Flow?

The steps a person takes to complete their goal, from the first initiation to the end is called a “user flow”. User flows are a combination of one or more possible sequences of steps. For example, a person discovers a website that is designed to educate and train them on how to look after orchids. The user flow starts with the person thinking, “I want to grow orchids”. The end result is: “These orchids I’m growing are so beautiful! I’m glad I found that website and application to help me”.

XXUser Flow vs User Journey

It’s common to hear the terms “user flow” and “user journey”. While at first glance, these terms could seem similar, but they are quite different aspects of UX Discovery.

A user flow portrays the physical steps the user goes through while using an app or software. This is also known as ‘touch points’ which are commonly buttons, forms, landing pages - any part of the software to which the user has access.

A user journey shows the emotions and motivations of the user and identifies any pain points. Pain points are difficulties or problems a person faces when engaging in any activity.

XXWhat is User Experience?

As we discussed in our article What Is UX and Why Does It Matter?”, the most important function of UX design is the process of discovering user frustrations and removing them.

User Experience (UX) is the impression a user gets from interacting with a product’s interface.

XXWhat is User Experience Design?

User Experience Design or User Interface Design (UI) considers how the software looks. Its focus is on the aesthetics of colour schemes, typography, buttons and icons.

XXWhat is a User Map

A user map is a visual graphic that shows both the user flow and the user journey.

XXHow to Create a User Flow Diagram

Before a user map can be designed, we first need to learn as much as we can about the people who will be using the product. We need to discover who the customers are, the administrators, and the salespeople i.e. each of the user types that will engage and benefit from the application. This is done two ways:

We conduct interviews with those who will be using the application and we create fictional identities for those most likely to use the application.

During this discovery session, we ask many questions to understand all of the different types of personalities and personas. Are they labourers with big fingers? Are they petite ladies? Are they elderly or young? What locations did they mostly live in? What devices do they use? Are they technically proficient or challenged?

Essentially we need to know:

  • What are the users’ needs?
  • What are the users’ problems?
  • What features are important to them and why are they important?
  • What are the first questions they have about the product?
  • What do they need to know before and during the use of the application?

Getting to know the user type helps us understand how to design the application. For example, if they are builders with large rough fingers, working outside and reporting on an iPad, they will need to have large buttons that have a good amount of padding around them, so their fingers strike only the button.

In the case of the APCO application, during our UX Design Workshop, we discovered that all of the users would be working in an office environment with a desktop computer. From this, we determined that we do not need to focus on responsive mobile designs or create a native (Apple iOS or Android) application.

While discovering the users and creating the user flow for the Norths Collective native mobile application, we have a vast user type. Their ages mostly range between 22-65, encompass a varying range of professions and have a variety of uses for the application. We designed an application that would best cater for all, rather than focusing on any one type of user.

Once we fully understand the user types, we create maps depicting each user type’s flow to complete specific goals within the application. For example: Jane wants to join a sports club. She downloads the application on her iOS device and reads each of the information slides about the benefits of the club. She is then given an option to either sign in or join. She chooses to join and goes through a short onboarding process, including paying the initial membership fee.

By mapping out each user, we determine what pages, sections, buttons, information blocks, and additional functions of an app need to be designed to complete their goal successfully. We create user diagrams that help us visually see the flow. Here is an example of one we created for a client: