How to Visualize the User Journey

Planning the user journey is one of the first steps in developing a successful digital product. But how do you represent it in a way that it effectively guides the entire product development process?
We love road trips! But don’t you hate it when you get lost…with a couple of kids in the backseat asking “are we there yet” every two and a half minutes? That makes for a rather unpleasant journey.

This unfortunate scenario is more likely to happen if you just hop into the car, say “let’s drive,” and hope that you’ll get to your destination. It’s the same with developing a digital product — if you don’t know how you’d take users from point A to point B, they’re more likely to get lost and hit up your customer support folks to ask, “are we there yet?”

Planning the user journey is one of the first steps in developing a successful digital product. But how do you represent it in a way that it effectively guides the entire product development process? A user journey wireframe gives you the map you need for creating an app that meets your users’ needs.

What is a User Flow?

User Flows rely on two main user experience deliverables: wireframes and user journeys. Let’s define each to help us understand a User Flow.

A wireframe is a visual guide that lays out the content and functionality on a webpage or application interface. The skeletal framework is created to help you arrange elements on a page to accomplish a specific purpose, which is often determined by a business objective or creative idea.

A wireframe is used early in the development process to determine the basic structure of an interface before design elements or content are added. It shows the range of functions available, the hierarchy of information, the rules for displaying certain information, and what users will see on the screen based on their actions.

A user journey is a path that users take to accomplish a task. It can be used in the design process to map out how users navigate a website or software application to achieve their goals as quickly as possible. The process of designing a user journey also helps the development team visualize how users may interact with their applications.

Now, we put two and two together, and have a User Flow–a series of wireframes in a diagram illustrating the user journey visually, screen by screen, interaction by interaction. The User Flow illustrates how users interact with your website, system, or application to achieve a specific goal. It documents the events, unique screens, and system states users may encounter while addressing their thoughts, emotions, expectations, and challenges.

Why is a User Flow Important?

Great question! Why should you bother drawing boxes inside of boxes, drawing lines between them, labeling user actions, etc?

If you want to create a digital product that solves real problems, attracts users, and generates revenue, you need to design it with your target audience in mind. A User Flow helps you put together what you know about your ideal customers and visualize how your insights can be translated into a product that works. Here are the key benefits of creating a user journey wireframe:

  • Apply data to design: You have done your research and accumulated a ton of data about your market. A User Flow helps you condense the data and apply the insights to your design process.
  • Stay user-centric: Since a User Flow is created from the users’ perspective, it can help you maintain a user-centric approach throughout the design and development process.
  • Provide a shared vision: The User Flow helps validate the design approach and align stakeholders early on in the process to prevent your team from working in silos.
  • Encourage innovation: A User Flow will allow your team to visualize the product, discover design and business opportunities, and spark conversations that lead to new ideas.
  • Anticipate potential issues: The process of developing a User Flow allows you to examine the most critical customer interactions so you can predict and avoid issues.
  • Reduce customer service requests: A well-designed User Flow means users can easily achieve their goals. You’ll get fewer customer service inquiries, which translates into long-term cost savings.
  • Measure KPIs: A User Flow can be used to monitor team performance. You can map out the development process and ensure that checkpoints are met during the design and development stages.

Best Practices for Creating a User Flow

There’s more to a User Flow than what meets the eye. Like the swan gliding effortlessly across the water as its legs paddle furiously beneath the surface, a deceptively simple looking User Flow comes from a place of deeply understanding the complexities of your digital product, paired with a similarly deep understanding of your users and business goals from the application.

If each interaction in your User Flow makes perfect sense, appears almost as if it inevitably had to be exactly this way, and almost nothing appears to be missing, then your UX designer has done their job beautifully. This will play a pivotal role in turning ideas and data into reality. Follow these best practices to make sure your User Flow delivers benefits “as advertised”:

Get Stakeholder Buy-In

Get stakeholder buy-in from the get-go to align everyone involved. Gather requirements from your stakeholders and incorporate them into your user journey wireframe. This process can also break down silos by helping stakeholders understand the perspectives of other departments.

Clarify What a Wireframe Does

Some stakeholders may not be familiar with the idea of a wireframe. If they start talking about fonts, colors, icons, or other UI design features, gently redirect to avoid these rabbit holes, which aren’t ready to be explored just yet. Be clear about the level of fidelity of your User Flow and the type of feedback you’re looking for.

Get Into Your Audience’s Head

To increase audience engagement with your product, you need to pull the right triggers. The user journey should therefore address users’ pain points and desired outcomes, as well as how your audience thinks, feels, and acts when they’re interacting with your product. As you structure your flow, think, “How can I make this as intuitive, painless, and quick as possible to complete?”

Define Navigation Patterns

Navigation has a significant impact on the user experience of your product. Consider the number of steps users need to take to accomplish a task, when and where they will need specific information, how they can find it, and how they can return to a previous state or screen.

Consider Different User Scenarios

Cover all the bases by showing different paths in a single flow. Think of it as a “choose your own adventure” flow chart — you need to consider all the actions a user can take on a page and how you’d take them through different steps to arrive at the same outcome.

User Flows: Addressing Complexity with Simplicity

A User Flow allows you to document a wealth of information, communicate insights, get everyone on the same page, and stay user-centric in your development process. It’s an integral part of our tried-and-true product development process to help our clients align their vision, business objectives, and customer expectations to ensure success. Schedule a free consultation with our experienced team to see how we can help you cover all the bases and design an app that’s appealing to your target market.


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