User Journey vs. User Flow: What’s the Difference?

When it comes to designing digital products, it’s important to understand the difference between a user journey and a user flow. While they may sound similar, these two concepts are actually quite different. Let’s take a closer look at what each one is, and how you can use them to create better user experiences.

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In this article:

What is the User Journey?

a jeep driving down an open road under a blue, cloudless sky

A user journey describes the emotions, motivations, and goals of a customer as they interact with your product or service. It focuses on how customers feel as they progress through their experience—whether they’re satisfied, frustrated, bored, or excited. By understanding the emotional journey users take when using your product, you can design a solution that addresses their needs and expectations.

How the User Journey is Typically Used

The user journey is best used at the beginning of the product design process. It helps you gain an understanding of how customers interact with your product and what their ultimate goals are. By mapping out this journey, you can identify areas where users may experience friction or confusion and create solutions to address them before they become a problem.

Common Examples of a User Journey in Action

A common example of a user journey is the shopping process. The customer begins with a need—say, finding a new pair of shoes for work. They then research different brands and styles, compare prices and features, and eventually make a purchase. 

Throughout this entire process, they’re feeling emotions like excitement, satisfaction, or frustration as they interact with different products and different website experiences. If your website requires that they have to click one too many times to find the solution they’re looking for, you could see a drop in conversions because of that. 

Conversely, if you offer a streamlined journey that takes customers from being interested in a product to making a purchase, you’re much more likely to see a higher conversion rate and better reviews of your website experience overall. 

Why Leveraging a User Journey is a Good Idea

Leveraging a user journey helps you create an experience that’s tailored to customers’ needs and emotions. It focuses on understanding users’ motivations, goals, and pain points so you can create solutions that address them. This leads to more satisfied customers and better engagement with your product—which is beneficial for both you and them.

Key Things to Consider When Building a User Journey

When building a user journey, it’s important to consider the following.

Identify Users’ Goals, Motivations and Pain Points

What do users hope to achieve with your product? What motivations and pain points drive their behavior? Understanding these will help you create solutions that meet their needs and expectations.

Map Out Each Step of the Journey and How Users Will Feel at Each Point

How do users feel at different points in their journey? Are they excited, frustrated, or confused? When you have a clear understanding of how your prospective customers will feel at each step and what these emotional touchpoints entail, you can design solutions that address their needs and meet or exceed their expectations. 

Monitor Customer Feedback and Adjust the Journey Accordingly

It’s important to stay on top of customer feedback and adjust the user journey accordingly. This will help ensure that users are having a good experience with your product and that their needs are being met.

By taking these steps, you can create an effective user journey that helps customers achieve their goals and provides them with a great experience.

How to Make the Most of Any User Journey You Build

Once you’ve built a user journey, it’s important to keep track of user behavior and feedback. This will help you identify areas where users may be experiencing issues and create solutions to address them. Additionally, you should test different versions of the user journey to continually optimize it and ensure you’re providing the best possible experience.

What is the User Flow?

a mountainside landscape with a stream of water running through

A user flow, on the other hand, is a visual representation of how users move through your product or website. It’s like a roadmap that guides customers from the moment they enter your system until they complete their goal. It includes all the steps and pages users must go through in order to accomplish what they set out to do, including any errors or dead-ends they may encounter. 

By analyzing user flows, you can gain an understanding of how customers navigate your product and uncover areas where there may be issues that need to be addressed.

Examples of User Flow in Action

An example of a user flow is the sign-up process for an online store. Let’s walk through that process briefly. 

First, customers will enter their information, such as name and email address. Then they’ll create a password and click the “Sign Up” button. After that, they may be directed to a page that confirms their account has been created or asked to verify it via an email link. Finally, once all these steps have been completed, they’ll be able to access the store.

By understanding the user flow for a particular task or process, you can identify areas that may need improvement and create solutions to address them. This will help ensure customers have a smooth and intuitive experience with your product.

Why Are User Flows Important?

User flows are important because they provide a clear roadmap of how customers navigate your product or website. They also help you identify areas where users may be experiencing problems, allowing you to make the necessary adjustments to provide a better experience. Additionally, user flows help maximize customer engagement and loyalty by taking the time and care to consider their experience.

Key Things to Consider When Building a User Flow

When building a user flow, it’s important to consider the following.

The Goals and Motivations of Your Users

Understand the goals and motivations of your users so you can create an effective user flow that meets their needs. Perhaps they’re looking for convenience and speed or a more intuitive experience? Or maybe they need more detailed information and guidance? Understanding their needs will help you create a user flow that meets them where they’re at.

Types of Pages/Steps for Customers to Complete a Task

It’s also important to consider the types of pages and steps customers need to complete a task. For example, if they need to create an account, what information do they need to enter? Do they need to verify their email address or pick a username and password? Knowing this will help you create an intuitive and efficient user flow.

How You Can Make the Experience More Enjoyable

Finally, consider how you can make the experience more enjoyable for customers. This could involve adding visual elements or using language that’s easy to understand. You could also add tips or tutorials to help guide customers through the process if they get stuck. Anything you can do to limit frustration and make the experience more straightforward will help create a better user flow.

By understanding the user flow, you can identify areas where customers may be experiencing problems and create solutions to address them. And that’s something everyone can get behind!

Quick Recap: User Journey vs. User Flow

User journeys and user flows are closely related concepts. Let’s review. 

  • User Journey: A user journey is the overall experience a customer has with your product
  • User Flow: A user flow is the step-by-step process they take to complete a task.

So, if you want to improve your product, first understand how customers interact with it, then identify problem areas and come up with solutions for these problems.

How Will You Use User Journey and User Flow in Your Designs?

Having a firm grasp on the differences between user journey and user flow can help you create better designs and experiences for your customers. Now that you understand these concepts, how will you use them to improve customer satisfaction and engagement?

Good luck on all your future projects!