UX User Flows: What Are They and How Do They Work?

By Joshua Gross, 07 January, 2023

You know what the purpose of your app is and what you want your users to accomplish by using it. How, though, do they get from point A to point B when they first arrive?

This is where UX user flows come in. These flowchart-style maps help you visualize exactly how your users will get from their entry point to the final interaction.

By taking the time to create user flows before you design and develop your app, you are ensuring that the entire process is focused on the needs and desires of the user rather than the whims of your team. This is essential to any successful app, as even the best ideas will struggle to get off the ground if it's clunky, confusing, or downright frustrating for users to engage with them.

What Are UX User Flows?

A user flow is a map of the potential paths a user can take through your website or app. You can create user flow charts to outline paths toward specific outcomes (such as making a purchase or subscribing to a newsletter) or to illustrate paths through the entire digital product.

The starting point of any user flow is their entry point and then goes through the potential steps that lead them to the final desired interaction.

Creating a UX user flow map allows you to zoom out and consider the overall structure of your site or app and visualize how a user might move through it. This allows you to identify and address navigation issues or obstacles between the user and the desired final outcome.

The Different Types of User Flow Charts

You can create different types of charts depending on the task and the design stage you are in. Let's take a look at three common types of user flow charts to help you in your quest to create the best possible user experience.

Task Flow Chart

Task flows visualize the steps a user will take to complete a certain task. These are incredibly useful for understanding how users can complete tasks and which steps they will need to take in what order.

When creating a task flow, you only display the path to one task or feature. This means that they are usually created from a specific starting point where you anticipate many users will enter and then achieve the same outcome via certain steps. These are linear charts rather than charts with branches or other possible paths.

User Flow Chart

A flow chart shows the sequential order of steps involved in the entire experience of interacting with your product or a smaller collection of task flows.

This chart shows the possible steps a user can take based on certain conditions.

Wire Flow Chart

Wire flows are more complex flowcharts that can be made once an initial wireframe or low-fidelity prototype has been created. Wireframes help to communicate the layout and design you intend for each page, but they cannot clearly illustrate how users will flow from page to page when an interface is heavily dynamic.

When you create a wire flow, it lets you add the context of a page to your user flows. This is a particularly useful type of user chart when you are designing mobile screens for apps.

Why Do You Need User Flow?

When you have an idea for an app or site, and you're ready to get it off the ground, it's tempting to try and rush to launch. However, taking the time to create UX user flows can mean that your developing time is reduced. Beyond that, several other benefits to designing user flows deliberately make it worth the time up-front.

They Speed Up Development and Reduce Errors

As the old saying goes, an hour of planning can save you ten hours of doing. When you put in the up-front work to create user flows as a part of the design process, it means that development can be much smoother.

It also means that you won't have to go back to fix errors, which is much more expensive and time-consuming than getting it right the first time. After all, the last thing you want to deal with once you get your project off the ground is major setbacks threatening your launch date and budget.

They Promote User-Centered Design

When you visualize the path that users will take through your product, it allows you to create an intuitive interface. You'll be able to see where there are redundancies, friction points, or confusing elements before you go through the trouble of developing your app.

On top of being useful during the initial design process, user flows can also help you audit and evaluate your existing interface. If you find that your app or site isn't converting or retaining as expected, you can use user flows to understand where your pain points might be.

They Let You Get in Your User's Head

During the process of creating a UX user flow, you'll find that you are much better able to put yourself in the shoes of your typical user.

This can help you take the true goals of your user into account when designing your product and reduce the risk of getting lost in concepts or abstractions that don't connect your product with the users.

They Communicate Goals and Plans to Stakeholders

User flows are incredibly valuable as a part of your design workflow, but that's not where their usefulness ends. They are also excellent collaboration tools that show everyone involved in the process the underlying architecture for user design behind your product.

When you're able to display a well-designed user flow for the entire product and specific tasks, it can both help to reduce misunderstandings and increase the time to buy in.

Additionally, creating well-defined user flows can make handing off your project to developers more efficient and less burdened by miscommunication. The designer-developer handoff process is notoriously complex, and having user flows can reduce friction during the exchange.

The Difference Between User Journeys and User Flows

Before we get too much further into it, let's talk a bit about the difference between user journeys and user flows. You'll find that these terms are often used interchangeably, but the reality is that they aren't synonymous and focus on different aspects of the user experience.

When you create a user journey, you're building a pathway that a specific user will take through your product. This includes how they showed up on your app or site in the first place and what drove them there.

User flows are a more general illustration of all of the different paths a user could take through the product.

Essentially, user journeys focus on users' thoughts, feelings, and motivations at each step of the process, while user flows are concerned with the actual actions of users. These two different user maps also have different starting points, with user journeys beginning before the first interaction ever occurs and user flows starting at the entry point into the product. Similarly, user journeys continue after the user has finished interacting with the product, while user flows end when the user completes the final interaction.

When creating a user journey, you're using a specific user persona to create a map, while your general user pool is the focus for user flows. While a user journey looks at the full tale behind a specific user's interaction with your app or site, the user flows are only focused on the potential pathways a user can take through a product.

How to Create a User Flow

Creating UX user flows consists of a number of distinct steps. Let's look at what you'll need to do in order to design the ideal user flow for your digital product.

Understand Your Audience

If you haven't already, now is the time to conduct customer research and learn everything you can about your target audience. This includes demographic information like age, gender, location, and income, but it also goes far beyond these data points to identify their goals, motivations, and pain points.

The more you understand your audience, the better able you'll be to create a user flow that is intuitive to your target demographic and reduces friction between the entry point and the final interaction.

Design the Elements of Your User Flow

Designers commonly use a wide variety of colors and shapes to represent elements in a user interface. Every shape represents either a possible interaction or an actualized interaction that gives the person looking at the chart additional information.

In some cases, a designer might use certain shapes in order to represent multiple actions, such as using a circle to illustrate a connection to another page. It's always a good idea to include a legend on your user flow so clients, colleagues, developers, and anyone else involved in the project can easily grasp the meaning of your proposed user flow.

One of the most common shapes in user flows is the rectangle. These usually represent a display screen or a page such as a confirmation page, a homepage, an onboarding screen, or another display screen where actions aren't necessarily being taken.

User flows also usually utilize lines with arrows to illustrate the flow of activity through the chart. The flow direction typically moves from left to right or from top to bottom.

Circles are used to display action in user flow charts for the most part. They indicate a step that needs to be taken or a task that must be completed.

Finally, diamonds are shapes used to ask questions in user flow charts. For example, you might have a diamond that posits the question "existing or new user?" to help outline the steps for each, depending on the answer.

Determine the Entry Point

The entry point is the means through which a user initially connects with your app or website. Apps frequently have a limited number of distinct points of entry, while websites have many possible points of entry.

This is because apps are typically entered from the downloaded app on a device or through an app store. That being said, advertisements, links, and articles can also bring a user to an app. Websites can be accessed in numerous ways, such as an online search, a backlink, a social media post, or an advertisement.

Outline the Steps to Completion

Depending on the type of user flow you're creating, this aspect of creating your chart can consist of varying elements. If you're creating a user flow for your entire website, it would commonly include things like signup or login pages, a home screen, onboarding, and more. Any pages or screens that are necessary for a person to complete a task should be included.

When creating your flow, you want to ensure that every step you're including is vital to the task. Keep it simple, and don't include anything superfluous to the final interaction you're focusing on.

The Final Interaction

When you have a desired task chosen for your user flow, the final interaction is the final page or screen with which the user engages when completing the task. What is the final page the user sees that lets them know they have achieved their goal?

For example, let's say that the flow chart you are making is for building your email list. When a user goes through the necessary steps to add their email, what do they see once the task is complete? In this instance, you might have a screen that lets them know that they are subscribed and that they should receive a confirmation email shortly.

Similarly, if you have an online store and the flow chart is designed for the task of making a purchase, the final interaction might be a confirmation page that communicates to the user that their order was received with any other useful information regarding shipping and tracking.

Review and Update

Once you have created your user flow, it's time to go over it with a fine-tooth comb to make sure it offers your users the shortest possible path to the completion of desired tasks.

It's a good idea to share this user flow with team members or colleagues for feedback.

Ready to Make an App That Puts the User First?

No matter how outstanding your app idea is, it won't be able to fulfill its ultimate potential without a user flow that is intuitive, natural, and sleek. Because user experience is such an essential part of app design, it can be worth passing the design and development off to a group of experienced and knowledgeable pros. At Planetary, we pride ourselves on helping companies of all sizes turn their ideas into reality.

If you're looking for the right team to partner with in the creation of your new app or site, drop us a line and tell us a bit about your project.