User flow diagram — what it is, why it’s important, and how to create one
The user experience (UX) on your website or app can make or break whether someone buys from you, becomes a long-time user, or moves on to a competitor. A user flow diagram can help you develop the ideal user experience to keep visitors on your site and convert them into long-term customers.
This guide will explain:
- What user flow is
- Why user flow diagrams are important
- How to create a user flow diagram
- Examples of user flow diagrams
What is user flow?
User flow is any path a customer could take through a website or application. The term user flow can also refer to a visualization or map of that journey — sometimes called a flowchart or a UX flow. It maps movement through a product, illustrating every possible step a user could take from an entry point to the end of their engagement.
The purpose of a user flow diagram is to help you identify where on your site or app you need to provide certain information that convinces users to take specific actions, moving them toward a successful final interaction.
User flow and user journey are often confused. While user flow focuses on the user's path through your site or app, a user journey or customer journey encompasses a user’s entire interaction with your brand on any platform or channel. This path starts long before a user visits your site or uses your app and can continue well after they’ve left your product. A user flow is one part of the overall customer journey.
Why user flow diagrams are important
User flow diagrams are like road maps that help you create the best possible user experience. They accomplish several essential purposes.
Show how users navigate
Get a glimpse into your users’ experience as they navigate your website or app. It’s easy to get so familiar with your company’s product that the navigation and user experience seem simple and straightforward, but that may not be the customer’s experience.
A user flow diagram helps you see your site or app’s flow from a user’s perspective. You can observe what they encounter, identify friction and hurdles, find methods to make the experience seamless, and ensure you align your goals with your users' needs.
A user flow can also provide a bird’s-eye view of your app and illustrate how every piece and page works together. It’s easy to get focused on one part of the website for a specific project to season, and lose sight of the big picture. A user flow visualizes the entire experience so you can optimize for every journey.
A user flow diagram helps illustrate how pages and steps work together to bolster or hinder a user's experience navigating your product. With this view, you can easily identify dead ends, orphaned pages, and poorly constructed paths
Optimize your user flow easier
Another reason user flow diagrams are essential is that they allow you to experiment with changes before pushing them live. If a navigation change is proposed or a new site section needs to be added, draw it into the user flow diagram first. This allows you to easily demonstrate and discuss where it fits not just on the site architecture, but in the user’s journey.
Visualizing changes in the user flow keeps the app user-focused and helps your team catch problems before they launch. You avoid rushing untested changes that could seriously impact user flow and cost you considerable time and resources to fix after the fact.
Make it easy to receive feedback
When consolidating feedback from multiple team members — especially non-UX colleagues in sales and marketing — a user flow diagram is an efficient way to gather everyone's insights.
Since user flow diagrams are a visual medium, they make it easier to demonstrate app navigation to stakeholders of all departmental backgrounds. A user flow diagram has a simple key of shapes, easy-to-follow paths, and minimal text so critical collaborators can offer their valuable feedback easily.
How to create a user flow diagram
Making a user flow diagram requires user research, deep knowledge of your product’s value, and creative thinking.
1. Understand your customer journey
The first step to designing a user flow diagram is understanding your user and their customer journey.
You can get to know your users by creating engaging buyer personas. A buyer persona is a representation of a critical audience segment and can help you understand your users' needs, wants, motivations, and behaviors. Buyer personas can help you determine what information to include on each page of your site that convinces users to navigate to the next step in the flow.
In addition to personas, consider building a customer journey map that outlines every step a customer takes with your organization, from introduction to purchase. Understanding the entire customer journey for each persona highlights where your website or app comes in and can provide crucial insights for the UX it should offer. Users engaging with the website early in their customer journey will need a different user flow than personas interacting with the app toward the end of their journey.
2. Identify and align your goal with your user’s goal
Specific sections or pages of your website have different goals from making a purchase, to subscribing to your newsletter, signing up for a free trial, or registering for a webinar. But these might not accurately reflect your users’ goals.
Identifying a user's objective can be trickier, but you can reference the personas and customer journey map you’ve created. Examine customers’ pain points at the journey stages when they turn to your apps. Once you know your users' goals, you can design or adjust the user flow to meet them where they are in their journey, deliver what they're looking for, and take them to the endpoint you desire.
It may seem counterintuitive to start with the user’s goals rather than your own, but you have to know what users want before you can convince them to navigate to the end of your flow.
3. Figure out how users find you
Now that you know where your user flow ends, it's time to figure out where it starts. Review your customer journey maps and make a list of all the ways users find you, your product, and your site. These are the many starting points of your user flow.
Some common entry points you may have in your user flow diagram include:
- Direct traffic
- Organic search
- Social media
- Paid ads
- Referral sites
How users enter your site will tell you a lot about their needs and how long they will take to reach your endpoint. For example, a user who reaches your site through direct traffic may already know what they want and head straight to your product, while a user who clicks on an ad may not be familiar with your brand and randomly click around on your site.
4. Determine what information your users need
Next, you need to fill in the blanks between the endpoint and various starting points of your user flow to figure out exactly how to optimize your audience’s experience and lead people through your site. Use your buyer personas and customer journey map to determine these steps, which should address pain points, alleviate fears and doubts, and give buyers the information they seek.
For example, if potential customers consistently enter your website through a paid ad and then click over to the “About page,” it means your audience wants to know who they might be buying from. In order to streamline that user experience, you might include some company info on the target landing page or create a clear CTA from the product page to the About page.
The timing of information is also crucial to ensuring users get what they need to move forward in the user flow. Consider what users want to achieve, what’s making them hesitate, and what questions they have at every stage. Then optimize the steps in your user flow to address those issues at the right time.
5. Map and visualize the flow
At this stage, you know what users need and when they want it at every step of the user flow — from entry to the endpoint. Now, it's time to visualize it. To map your user flow, you can use a physical or digital whiteboard or a software program that makes it easy to build and collaborate.
Regardless of your tool, there are some standard symbols you'll use in your user flow.
Shape and symbol meanings
User flow diagrams have a relatively universal language of shapes and symbols, making each one easy to understand. Use these shapes to communicate the different paths and decisions in a user flow.
- Ovals represent the start and end of a user flow.
- Rectangles symbolize a step in the process, usually a page on your website or app.
- Arrows connect the shapes and show the direction of the user’s path.
- Diamonds represent decisions that users make on each page or at each step.
- Parallelograms indicate where the user must input something like contact information.
Combined with small amounts of text, these shapes and symbols make it easy to follow what’s happening in each stage of a user flow.
6. Get feedback, refine, and finalize
Once you’ve completed your user flow diagram, share it with other team members to get feedback.
Give it to stakeholders across your organization including designers, developers, product engineers, sales reps, and marketing team members. All these perspectives can help you identify possible friction in the flow and find better ways to streamline and improve the user experience. Apply feedback and make changes as necessary.
Once approved, bring your finalized user flow diagram to the UX designers, web and software developers, and engineers who will turn this flow into a practical digital resource. They can test the user flow with actual users and apply that feedback to improve your website or app further.
Examples of user flow diagrams
Here are two examples of real-life user flow diagrams:
This simple UX flow uses most of the universal shapes and symbols as well as colors to communicate each step.
This user flow adds additional text along the arrow lines to communicate the results of each decision, such as whether the user clicked “yes” or “no.”
Start building user flows
User flow diagrams help you plan digital assets and provide an optimal user experience, making it easier to convert visitors to customers and customers to life-long users. When you’re ready to transform the UX of your website or app, start with insights from your customer personas and their journey maps.
Adobe Customer Journey Analytics provides your business with vital data to develop customer journeys you can use to make user flow diagrams for your website or app.
Watch an overview video on how Customer Journey Analytics can help you build robust user flows by combining years’ worth of customer behavior data from every channel into a single interface.