Understanding User Journey vs User Flow in UX

by | Jan 19, 2018 | User Experience

In user experience (UX) discussions, the ‘user journey’ is often confused with the user flow. Both terms are used in product development to describe the story, the arc, of a customer’s interaction with the service or product. Yet there are subtle differences:

First, Defining ‘User Journey’ And ‘User Flow’

The user journey describes the situations where a customer would interact with a product – the steps these interactions cover. For example, the user might be directed to a sign-up page for a browser-based app, followed by user onboarding tutorials. User journey tells the possible ways a user can interact with a product.

User flow, on the other hand, describes the actual routes users take – how they accomplish their goals within the product. It thus refers to actual interaction rather than potential interaction.

What Are The Similarities And Differences Between User Journey And User Flow?

The similarities are:

  • Shared points of reference in design
  • Both aspects of UX work with user requirements – what the user intends to achieve using the product
  • Both provide data insights for better designs
  • Both forms of user experience enable companies to gather data that informs decisions about how best to meet users’ requirements
  • Both are developed after user personas
    • This is because understanding what the typical user’s motives and objectives are makes it easier to craft a user journey that ticks the right boxes
  • Both can determine possible user behaviour
    • Both tracking actual user flow and the overall, hypothetical user journeys possible are forms of future prediction. Companies can use real data of users and personas to map possible routes onto future leads and design the best thing to guide users to the right goals
  • They have similar creation requirements

In both cases, when working on user journey or user flow, you need to ask several questions: What are users’ greatest goals? What information must they have to continue to their next win using your product? What doubts arise at each stage?

The Differences Are:

  • Design focus vs use focus
    • While user journey focuses on the UX design of an entire process from start to finish, user flow focuses on the individual stages of UX as pragmatic use cases, the actual steps users take
  • Journey is more concerned with the user’s (emotional) state
    • The user journey includes the emotional response users have to small wins (or frustrations) using a product. The user journey includes how users move from state to state, whereas user flow is more concerned with the possible, tangible routes through which different product goals can be achieved
  • User journey is the guide, user flow is the tool
    • In UX, the user journey is the guide that leads users to their target. The user flow is the tool – the interface or other structure – that enables them to get there. One is ideal (Typical user X would take Y path and this is how we would guide them), while the other is more pragmatic (‘Here are the specific interactions that will help the user achieve Z end’)

Do you need to review your UX and improve the user journey or flow? Contact Interact RDT today.


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