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

User experience (UX) represents the interactions a user has with a company’s product or service within a digital world. It has become an integral part of product design, with product managers realizing the impact that today’s technologies have on consumers and their paths to purchase. Over the past seven years alone, the number of digital buyers has steadily increased (from 1.32 to 2.05 billion), and it is believed that by the end of this year, an estimated 2.14 billion people will be purchasing some sort of goods or service online. To maximize their profitability companies must, in turn, maximize their online exposure; thus, they’re turning to specific UX Design strategies, hoping that the development of meaningful user experiences will drive positive purchasing behaviors. Take a look at two of the most common UX design techniques — user journey vs. user flow — to see how these two tools help companies describe and improve their user experiences so that better products (and services) can be offered and sold.

Although similar in that they both define the ways in which users virtually connect with a product or service, user journey, and user flow are actually two separate design strategies. 

User flow is the actual process by which a user navigates a website, app, or other digital platforms on his or her way to completing a specific task (i.e., research, sign up, purchase, etc.). It’s basically a visual representation of the steps a consumer takes to achieve a goal. For example, when visiting a website, a user might start on the homepage, navigate to a list of “Products and Services” and then pick one particular item. By selecting the item, the user is routed to a details page, which he or she can then navigate towards the desired end result (such as putting the item into a cart for purchase, clicking on content to read, watching a video, or signing up for additional information, etc.). User flow is critical because it sets the stage for users to be able to complete a certain action. Without intuitive flow, users could be misdirected and, therefore, unable to complete their original task.

User journey, on the other hand, is a very complex model that is used to describe the path a user takes to complete a goal while also focusing on his or her feelings and motivations along the way. In this sense, the user journey is a much more dynamic process and harder to define since user emotions can and do vary according to different life experiences, goals, use scenarios, access to platforms, and more! Unlike user flow, the user journey is a representation of a user’s interactions with a company across all channels and over the entire span of the user/company relationship, not just one single point in time or on one specific platform. For example, during the process of completing a user journey, companies consider why users seek certain information — the motivation behind the initial desire. 

In the case of a user interested in travel options, for instance, a user journey might consider the feelings prompting a user to choose a type of transportation: is he or she motivated by a desire to reach a destination quickly, or is the main motivation cost or perhaps something else? Does he or she have access to a computer, a phone, or an iPad? How will they research their travel options? These questions and more help companies map out a user journey, enabling them to gain insight into how and why certain touchpoints resonate with certain types of users so that they can maximize what works (and correct what doesn’t). Inevitably, user flow will intersect with the user journey, detailing the actions a user takes at certain points during his or her engagement with a company (i.e., on its website or while using an app).

Contemplating user journey vs. user flow can seem complicated, but both can be more easily developed and exploited for insight with the right type of research. Indeed, with the right type of customer experience research, companies can harvest the quantitative and qualitative data they need to analyze user journey and user flow and, thereby, render better products, better touchpoints, and better engagement. The reward: happier customers and increased profitability. To learn more about using market research to inform your company’s user journey and user flow design processes, please contact Research America.   

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