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User Journeys vs. User Flows

User Journeys vs. User Flows

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User journeys and user flows are both UX tools that capture how people accomplish goals with certain products or services. They share some similar traits. Both user journeys and user flows are:

  • Used during design ideation or evaluation activities for the purpose of understanding and optimizing experience.
  • Structured around a user goal and examined from the perspective of the user or customer (not a company or product).
  • Captured and communicated via UX-mapping methods.

Their main distinction, however, is the level of detail and focus for each: User journeys describe a user’s holistic, high-level experience across channels and over time. User flows zoom in to describe a set of specific, discrete interactions that make up a common user pathway through a product.

User Journey

  • Definition A scenario-based sequence of the steps that a user takes in order to accomplish a high-level goal with a company or product, usually across channels and over time
  • Focus Macro: Broad and high-level (e.g., the experience of becoming a new patient of a medical practice)
  • Scope Zooms out to consider multiple touchpoints and channels
  • What it captures The user’s actions, emotions, and thoughts, as well as channels
  • Appropriate artifacts Journey maps

User Flow

  • Definition A set of interactions that describe the typical or ideal set of steps needed to accomplish a common task performed with a product
  • Focus Micro: Specific and granular (e.g., signing up for alerts on a website)
  • Scope Zooms in to understand interactions within a single product
  • What it captures Product-based interactions (key user actions and system responses)
  • Appropriate artifacts Wireflows, flow charts, or task diagrams

To determine whether a user journey or a user flow is best for your specific context, consider the following questions:

  • Does your user process involve more than one channel or more than one, known product (e.g., your company’s website)? User journeys are best for capturing activities dispersed over multiple channels; user flows are well-suited for interactions within one product.
  • Can users generally accomplish the goal in minutes or hours, at the most, or will they need to complete activities over days, weeks, or months? User journeys are better for communicating activities over longer periods of time; user flows are better for relatively short-term goals.
  • Will it be critical to understand not only the actions but the emotions and thoughts of users across more complex decision-making? User journeys capture those; user flows are limited to sequences of steps, with no additional information about users’ emotional states.

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