Did your start your last website by generating a sitemap? Diagrams are at the core of effective website planning, yet they are often overlooked. Whether it is a site flow or a user flow, these visualizations help website teams understand how a website will both look and work, and are essential to creating any UX website.
But how do you know what type of diagram to use? Should you focus on a user flow or will a site flow be enough? In most cases, you’ll want to use both. Here’s how the two are similar versus how they differ.
How Site Flows and User Flows Are Similar
Site flows and user flows reveal different information, but in many ways, they are very similar. Here are five properties that both user and site flows share.
1. They both illustrate page flow.
Both a site flow and a user flow can be used to diagram how a website user might move from page to page. This is important for many reasons – it can demonstrate how a website works to business decision makers or provide an outline to the rest of the development team so that they have a better idea of what is going on. Understanding how users flow throughout the pages of a website help create a more connected view of the entire project.
From a design perspective, this can encourage more cohesiveness since designers can see the entire plan rather than individual pieces of a puzzle. Regardless of the lead designer’s reason for creating flow diagrams, they are good for everyone when it comes to website planning.
2. They both help plan a site.
Both types of flow diagrams are essential to website planning. Taking the time to create either a site flow or a user flow will give everyone involved a better understanding of the intended goal of the site and a clear picture of how it will work. Site flows are especially handy when it comes time to plan a site’s navigation; whereas user flows help designers ensure that the needs of the user are appropriately considered. Both flows provide a realistic outline of what is going on within a website so that designers and developers are clear about what they have and what they might need to focus on.
3. They both can be used to improve usability.
Understanding what you are working with as early as possible in the web design process is the first step toward making it better. Both site flows and user flows can help improve the user experience of a website. With a well-defined site flow, it is easy to identify areas for improvement, especially concerning navigation, but it can also help identify ideal locations for links or plan for the inclusion of microinteractions. User flows, on the other hand, help identify potential user behavior when completing website tasks so that developers can plan appropriately.
4. They both make building sites easier.
Although some designers might think that skipping the process of creating user flows or site flows will save them time, it is far from true. Flow diagrams help designers avoid problems, which ultimately reduces the amount of time needed to fix things. Flow diagrams help prevent designers from forgetting to include pages while also encouraging them to recognize potential opportunities for call-to-actions or links. Diagramming first also helps reduce the risk of creating a website that makes little sense to the intended user. For website teams, starting with a clearly defined plan that helps prevent errors by multiple contributors is invaluable.
5. They can be used alone or together.
Although there are many similarities between site flows and user flows, they are still different flows that reveal different types of information. You also don’t need to do both to reap their benefits. Because the information necessary for a site flow is different than the information required for a user flow, you could easily choose between the two if you wanted to. You could also use both, depending on your needs, and available data. However, if your goal is to build a website with a high amount of usability, it is generally a good idea to use both.
How Site Flows and User Flows Are Different
While there are many reasons why site flows and user flows could be mistaken for the same thing, there are just as many reasons why they shouldn’t. Here are five ways these two flow diagrams differ.
1. They have different scopes.
While they both illustrate page flow, they do so at different scopes. A site flow provides the broadest perspective. A good analogy would be a map. The site flow would be a map of an entire country, while the user flow would focus on a more detailed area, such as a specific city. The site flow would also not be as detailed as the user flow. On a map, this difference is expected because the country map has to cover more area and doesn’t need to focus on the small details. Besides, do you really need to know where the parks are? Since the focus of the site flow is more about navigation than anything else, there is no reason to add as many details as you would on a user flow.
Understanding how these two flow diagrams differ is vital to keeping website planning effortless. When that knowledge is combined with Slickplan’s web-based diagramming tools, it becomes even easier.
2. They are utilized at different parts of the planning process.
You’ll definitely want to think about both site, and user flows when planning a website; however, you’ll probably focus on the site flow before the user flow. This is because a site flow helps designers understand which pages go on a site, so it is completed relatively early in the design process. Creating a site flow, in fact, should be done before wireframing, so that designers know which pages should link together.
User flows, on the other hand, are created independently of the site flow and then compared against wireframes. A finished user flow is used as a guide to ensure that specific tasks within a website are carried out. If a user flow built during the website planning process is incorporated before the site is built, it is less likely to need changes after it goes live.
3. One focuses on navigation, while the other focuses on tasks.
One of the most obvious differences between a user flow and a site flow are the details they provide. The site flow is heavily focused on navigation, giving designers an idea of both the breadth and depth of a site. With a site flow, designers can also easily see if a website is becoming too large to navigate before they start building it, and make the necessary changes.
A user flow, on the other hand, illustrates the paths taken by website users to complete a task. This is highly useful on sites that have many options, such as in e-commerce, but is applicable for any multi-page website. User flows help ensure that website visitors have a streamlined experience when completing actions such as logging in or entering a shipping address on a checkout page.
4. They impact UX differently.
Whereas both site and user flows can improve the usability of a site, each does so in unique ways. The site flow helps with website navigation, which is an essential factor in UX design. Website visitors want to logically flow through a site and websites that make it easier to do so help build a positive user experience.
User flows, on the other hand, ensure that websites are responsive to user behavior. While most visitors will appreciate a site that is easy to navigate through, if it doesn’t provide a good experience during that process, it was all for nothing. User flows help designers ensure that content and page elements are relevant to the user and that users can efficiently complete necessary tasks. Whereas a site flow helps ensure that a website visitor can easily find the login button, the user flow makes sure they don’t get stuck every time they try to do so.
5. User flows have many options.
Similar to their difference in scope, there is also a big difference in the complexities of a user flow versus a site flow. A site flow is relatively easy to put together; a user flow, not as much. Not only do you need to consider the different paths a user might take, you also have to consider the different users a site might have. It is these levels of details that make many designers avoid putting together user flows in the first place – even when they know how helpful they might be.
Thankfully, crafting user flows do not have to be impossible – especially when you use Slickplan to do so. With built-in diagrams and sharing capabilities, anyone can create easy to understand user flow diagrams that any member of a website design team can follow.
Written By Jenn Marie
Jenn Marie is a freelance copy writer and internet marketing strategist based out of the Seattle area. A true tech evangelist, Jenn previously helped individuals utilize the full potential of Dell, Microsoft and Amazon products. She now focuses on building authentic online presences for small businesses and entrepreneurs through her company, Jenn Marie Writing & Marketing. Find her on LinkedIn