Regardless of what type of website you’re building—you want it to be successful. One of the best ways to achieve this is to shift your focus to a user centered design. After all, happy and engaged users translate into lower bounce rates, more time on site, and increased page views. When planning your website, it is important to think about how your users will interact with your pages and content. It is important to identify user entry points, goals, and all the steps in between.
Planning user flow in advance guides your overall website building process. Once you have a high level understanding of what the user will be doing on your website, deciding on what content to create and where to place it becomes a much simpler task. This process also helps with team planning, by first aligning the stakeholders. While it will take some extra time to initially craft your user flow, think of the time and money you will save when you reduce revisions, excess pages, or unneeded content.
Simply stated, user flow describes how a user will move through a website or an app. User flows are typically designed in the form of a flow diagram—a visual representation that shows the various website locations your users will visit along a particular path, from entry point to goal. It is important to understand that even simple websites may offer multiple paths that users may follow to reach their goals.You may find it helpful to create multiple flow diagrams for each user type or persona rather than try to include everything in one diagram or one path.
It is important to understand how user flows fit into the big picture of website planning. User flows are most helpful in the early planning phase for a new website or a website redesign. A user flow diagram can be very helpful in documenting the steps needed for a user to reach their goals. In effect, this process identifies which pages you will need to create and how to arrange them.
User flows are essential for diagnosing improvements in an existing system. By recognizing key goals and the paths users take on your site to accomplish these goals, you may identify flows that are not as optimal as they could be. Look for ways in which you can reduce the number of steps it takes to reach a particular goal or reduce any content that may not be relevant to the user. You may find opportunities to lead different types of users on a particular user flow path, increasing the chances to offer them targeted and relevant content or activities.
The term “flow” was coined by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi to describe a “feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.” Creating user flow diagrams should be about more than just the diagram or the website itself. A website that has good user flow is one that does not interrupt the user’s mental thought processes as they navigate through it. When you clearly understand your user’s goal before you create a user flow, you avoid added distractions or unnecessary clicks in a user’s path.
When you shorten user paths on your website and remove irrelevant content, you must also use care not to fast-track your users to the end goals too quickly. This is particularly important for conversion funnels. Your goal is to get the user to buy your product, sign up for a service, or join a mailing list. The user’s goal is generally to learn more about you, buy into a product or idea, research alternatives, decide whether to buy a product, or take an action. If you understand each point in between the entry points and the end goals are key to getting them closer to make a decision or take an action. When you force a user decision or action too soon, you risk a premature exit by the user from your site.
A good user flow diagram can quickly and easily be diagrammed and shared. The tasks that lead to a well-designed user flow are meant to be nimble and freeing. Crafting optimum user flow offers a top down approach to designing exceptional user experience and user interface. The user flow diagram is the foundation in which you should be able to filter information for your Information Architecture (IA), Interaction Design, and User Interface (UI). User experience is ultimately a sum of many parts; however identifying potential pain points, gaps, or dead-ends in your user flow is a good first step that will go a long way toward ensuring good User Experience.