User flows for UX design
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Published on January 17, 2015
A user flow describes the path that a user takes when visiting a website or using an app. With websites, user flows involve the sequence of pages users visit, including the order in which they are visited. When discussing an app, the user flow describes the screens that a user goes through while using the app. Understanding user flows is essential to designing apps and websites that achieve the objective for your website or app. It allows you to deliver a final project that allows users to achieve what they need, is easy to navigate, and reduces the risk of user error or confusion.
User flows are generally represented through user flow diagrams. These are similar to task flow diagrams, yet they differ because users may enter the site or app through many different entry points.
How user flows help to create better websites and apps
Understanding the most common user flows, including what pages they are visiting along with the sequence in which they are viewing them, allows you to optimize the user experience for these visitors. By investigating the user flow of your users, you can discover if certain users are visiting pages that you hadn’t expected, or navigating through a site in a way that you had not originally planned. You can then adapt your site navigation and structure to better accommodate the needs of these users. For example, if you find that a large percentage of visitors to a website are entering to a home page, then using a search function to locate a specific page, then navigating to that page, you can adjust the home page to accommodate these users. You could add functionality to accommodate these users on the home page, whether it involves making it easier to navigate to the page they visit, or add the information or functionality needed directly to the home page itself.
Types of user flows
For an existing site or app, use analytics tools, such as Google Analytics, to understand the user flow for those using your site or app. These tools will show you actual user flows, including how they found your site, the pages or screens visited along with the time spent on each page, and the page from which they exited.
If you are developing the UX for something new, you will start with scenarios for the type of user, along with their needs, to build an anticipated user flow. The flow will start with how you anticipate they will enter, and continue through to the point they achieve their goal, and where they go before finally leaving.
Point of Entry for a user flow
The start of a website user flow is with the entry point, determining how a user ended up on your site. The entry point can be a link from another site, a web search, a paid advertisement, a bookmark, or any other way in which a user may navigate to your site.
The user flow maps the user’s path starting from the time they get onto your site through the point when they achieve their or your objective and on to the point at which they exit. You could follow a user through the purchase of a product, signing up for your newsletter, requesting information, downloading a white paper, or any number of goals. By noting each of the processes the user takes, you can better determine if each of these steps is necessary and efficient. Based upon the data supplied in the user flow, you can provide a more streamlined and accurate flow. This can have the benefit of increasing conversions, where users achieve your objective, or reducing abandonment, where users leave your site. You can learn more about user flows and creating scenarios in the user experience courses and workshops offered at American Graphics Institute. You can learn processes that provide your users with a better user flow through your website or app.
About the author
Jennifer Smith is a user experience designer, Photoshop expert, educator and author based in Boston. She is the author of more than 20 books on design tools and processes, including Adobe Creative Cloud for Dummies, Adobe Creative Cloud Digital Classroom, and Photoshop Digital Classroom. She has been awarded a Microsoft MVP three times for her work with user experience design in creating apps for touch, desktop, and mobile devices.
Jennifer delivers UX training and UX consulting for large Fortune 100 companies, small start-ups, and independent software vendors. She has been hired by Adobe and Microsoft to deliver training workshops to their staff, and has traveled to Asia, Europe, India, the Middle East, and across the U.S. to deliver courses and assist on UX design projects. She has extensive knowledge of modern Windows UX Design, having worked closely with the Windows team to create educational material and deliver UX workshops to key partners globally on behalf of Microsoft. Jennifer works with a wide range of prototyping tools including Fireworks, Photoshop, Illustrator, Blend for Visual Studio, and Balsamiq.