User Journeys and User flows: What is the Difference?

The main goal when working on new products is trying to understand and meet customer needs. In other words, the customer is always at the centre of the business.

To meet our goal, we use different methods of gathering customer feedback or tracking buyer behavior. Interviews, focus groups, and web analytics gives us a large amount of data to analyse. This analysis gives us a reasonable idea of how users will interact with a product even before it is developed. This is good news for us because now, we can understand how to design our products better, so that everyone is satisfied. Yet, how do we organise all that data? Fortunately, we have useful instruments, such as User Journeys and User Flows.

User Journeys and User Flows are similar in many aspects. For one, they share a similar goals: understanding how customers will work with our product and visualising that experience. Yet, at the same time, they refer to different sides of the design process.

What is the User Journey Map?

A User Journey Map (or Customer Journey Map) is a visualised experience of a customer’s interaction with a product. Such a map usually expands beyond the product itself, involving all sides of the business and including multiple touchpoints. Most often, this instrument describes different ways of achieving exact targets. In other words, User Journey Maps are usually linear, describing an exact flow from the beginning until the end.

It is important to note that these maps must include information about customer communication with the company, including the customer ‘s thoughts, emotions, goals and reasons. This feedback should be presented from the customer’s  point of view and include all the ways the customer interacts with our business ― not only through products, but also through social networks, shops (if any), managers, call centres, etc.

The User Journey Map is dedicated to showing us user motives, expectations, fears, hopes, and so on. It is very important because these are what drive customers. Even a really joyful visual design will not help market your product successfully if the customer feels unsafe using your app. Overall, it’s really about the  customer.

There is no common rule on how to design a User Journey Map. If you google it, you will see a lot of different examples. That is because each map describes a different experience with different products. A typical map describes the overall user interaction with a product or feature, and may contain the following steps (but not be strictly limited to them):

  • awareness
  • research
  • purchase
  • use
  • advising friends

Yet also, a User/Customer Journey Map be more detailed and contain further steps and interactions. Here are some different examples:

user flow with users comments
User journey map
bank app user flowchart example

What are User Flows?

If a User Journey Map illustrates the user’s experience on a more emotional level and relates to an exact goal/target, a User Flow describes the entire customer path across the product. In other words, user flows are user scenarios based not on emotion, but on the product itself.

At the core of a User Flow is a group of user scenarios or tasks which the customer must accomplish, including all the alternative options of accomplishing those tasks. Initially , standard flow charts were used, but over time, user flows became enriched by different visual elements such as wireframes and sketches.

User flows are specifically useful in different ways.

  • First, for the existing product, a user flow helps describe current functionality and see what assists users in reaching their goals and what does not. So, it is a good tool to improve existing functionality, get an overview on possible problem areas, and plan any work  needed.
  • Second, for new products, it aids in understanding how the product will be designed, what will be required functionally, which are the key areas to focus on, and how best to plan the work.

So, if you already have an existing product, then it is better to start with a User Flow. The standard elements are:

  • Entry point. ― This is the point at which the user starts using your product or feature. It can be search engine results or an article with a referral link.
  • Steps to reach the goal. ― These form the majority of  the User Flow. Usually each step is a simple action that the customer needs to complete. It helps to understand which pages (screens) should have a website (application). Focus on the steps which are critical in enabling your user to complete the task in the current scenario, and put them down on the diagram.
  • The final step ― This is the point at which the user achieves his or her goal, finishes interacting with your product/feature, and moves on to the next goal.

To construct a User Flow, make a quick outline, putting down all the information you have in mind. tI is recommended to begin from the final step dictated by the goal. Then work backwards, adding more steps to reach the entry point. Starting from the final step will help you focus more accurately on the steps to get to the goal.

While working on the diagram, do not forget to add a legend, so that other people can understand your User Flow more clearly
As with User Journey Maps, User Flows may also be created in different ways. Here are a few examples:

User flow map
Before & after during map
Flow blue example

Is this fusion idea good? Let's see.

While working with both of these instruments, I got inspired to try to join them together in some way.  This fusion might help me solve a problem such as the following:

  1. We have a complex functionality. Among other things, there are many registration flows and a complicated checkout process.
  2. The team needs to have a clear overview of the product. In addition, any multiple teams working on the product should see customer feedback related to their areas, and also see how and what they plan to update.
  3. There is user feedback about possible improvements and problems which need fixing.
  4. We need to see visually what are the weak places and what are the typical UX problems users get on the website.
  5. We have ongoing development of new features and improvements to existing ones.
  6. There should be an easy way for management to see what is going on with the product.

The solution is to add an emotional part to the User Flow. For example, put user feedback as plain stickers on the related steps of the diagram. This feedback could be just a comment, a proposal, or anything else. The comments may be sorted by priority, so the most critical ones are on top. This really helps to see the project from a bird's-eye view and make better decisions on what should be done next.

Here is an example of what I got:

User Experience Design

The proposed schema is not ideal, but helps in many different ways. It is reasonable to assume that this will work. The most important consideration should be that it always displays the product’s condition in real time as much as possible. Therefore, this revised User Flow requires constant update. It may serve as a unifying link between development teams, product owners, the business, and customer service. Currently, we are working on implementing this instrument in our work, so this story will be continued.

What do you think?

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About Konstantin Smirnov

I like computers and music.