What is user flow (definition, guide and importance)?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 19 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

User flow or the user journey, is the movement that a user makes while using a product, such as a website. User flow determines how easy it is for a customer to navigate a website or application and this ease is key to the success of a product. If you're thinking about a career in graphic design or web design, it's important to understand what user flow is and how you can use it when designing. In this article, we discuss what user flow is, the importance of user flow and some of the different types of user flow charts.

What is user flow?

The answer to ‘What is user flow?' is a set of steps that a user takes on a website or in an application to complete a certain task. For example, the user flow of a shoe retailer's website would be the steps that it takes for the user to buy a pair of shoes. The user flow is a visual representation that can be digital or written and details the many different routes that a user may take. It's important to understand user flows if you're thinking about a career as a user experience (UX) designer or a web designer.

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What does user flow look like?

User flows tend to take the form of a flowchart and begin with the entry point of the application, like the homepage of a website. Following this, the flowchart then illustrates the many different routes that the customer can take before ending with the final or desired outcome. For most, the final outcome of a flowchart is the purchase of a product, the subscription to a service or the download of a particular piece of software. By depicting this process, designers can evaluate how quick the user journey is and can adjust the process to make the application more streamlined.

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The importance of a simple user flow

It's ideal for the user flow of an application or website to be as streamlined as possible. This helps ensure that users can easily understand the application, which may mean that they're more likely to stay on the application or website and make a purchase. For example, it's important for an e-commerce website to ensure that the steps a user takes to buy a product are few and easy to understand. Without this simplicity, customers may not make a purchase, which could lead to a decrease in sales and revenue.

Another benefit of a simple user flow is that it allows users to quickly become immersed with the story of the application or website. If a user feels immersed within a platform, they're more likely to stay on the website and make a purchase. Moreover, the simplicity of a design can also help ensure that a user doesn't waste time struggling to find what they're looking for. For a user flow design to succeed, it's essential there are multiple different routes or journeys that a user can take that lead to the same outcome.

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User flow in different interfaces

User flow is an important factor to consider in a range of different digital applications. If you're thinking about a career in digital or web design, here are some of the most common areas where you may utilise user flow charts:

In web design

In the 21st century, the website of a company has just as much, if not more, importance than the physical premises of the company. Users are increasingly turning to search engines to find answers and purchase products. Therefore, for any company that wants to generate more revenue, attract new clients and make more sales, website design is hugely important. Utilising user flowcharts is the best way to determine if a website is simple to use.

The user flow of a website is usually the foundation of any website design. As a web designer, it's important for you to anticipate the users' needs and develop meaningful and effective calls to action. It's also crucial to assess the obstacles or complications that a user might encounter on the website so you can resolve them. For example, if the purpose of a website is to attract viewers to subscribe to an email newsletter, it's imperative that the design of the website streamlines the process of signing up and uses calls to action to attract customers to the newsletter.
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In app design

The user flow of an application is usually very similar to the user flow design of a website. Applications typically have another purpose than sales, although many apps do facilitate this. As an application designer, you'd want the apps you design to have a streamlined flow throughout, no matter its purpose. For example, creators of game-based apps may use user flowcharts to determine how streamlined a character's progression is, how many side quests there are and how easy it is for a user to understand different aspects of the game.

Depending on the purpose of the app, the user flow can vary greatly. As a designer, you can aim to understand how long a person might use the app when they click on it, which parts of the apps move and which don't and what navigation buttons can make the process more streamlined. Some apps, especially gaming apps, want users to pay for special features. In these cases, the goal of the user flow chart may be to encourage users to make purchases, which you can achieve by creating streamlined payment options and using the app to encourage purchases.

Related: Q&A: What is web design? (Definition, elements and uses)

Types of user flow charts

There are a number of different flow charts that you can use when looking to understand the user flow of an application or website. Here are some of the most common and useful flowcharts that you can use and how you can use them:

Wire flows

Wire flows combine flowcharts and wireframes together. They feature individual screens which highlight the layout of each different aspect of a website or app. For example, a social media app wire flow may feature different rectangular page diagrams which highlight all the different main pages of the app, such as the feed and the profile page.

The wire flows then document the area where, if clicked, leads the user to a different page. Wire flows are beneficial because they can help you see and understand the different layouts of each application. This can help ensure that all pages look similar and that they all link to different areas of the app. Wire flows are typically not the right choice for apps with heavily dynamic interfaces or interfaces that contain a lot of movement, as you can't convey this with this type of user flow.

Task flows

Task flows are simple diagrams that can help you understand how users may travel through a website or application while completing a specific task. This type of user flowchart is simple because it usually only features one pathway that a user might take. For example, it might show how, if a user clicks on a specific button on the homepage, the website leads them to the contact page.

This type of flowchart is important in design because it can help ensure that all paths within a programme lead somewhere useful. It also helps you ensure that these different paths finish with the goal of the app. This goal may be in the form of purchases or subscriptions.

User flows

User flow charts focus on the way that a specific target audience interacts with an application or website. They're made up of multiple different pathways that highlight how not every user clicks on the same option. For example, a user flow may start with the homepage of the website or the app and may then have diagrams of this homepage that highlight the multiple different routes that a user can take.

By utilising this flow chart as a designer, you can see the entire flow of the app and ensure that every click leads where it's supposed to. As these charts highlight every different journey that a user can make, they can often be time-consuming and complicated to make. They can also be very beneficial for understanding the variations in the user experience, so you may wish to choose this method if you have enough time.

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