Guide to User Flow – The “Foolishly Ignored” Backbone of Website Design

Posted in Tips, Usability, Web Design2 years ago • Written by 5 Comments

User Experience, Responsive Web Design and similar terms have made such a serious impact on the lives of web designers that they have almost forgotten the core of website design – User Flow. I hope that we, the web designers, remember that website design is not just about “how it looks” but also about “how it works”! It is easy to get sentimental with your passion – website design – which forces you to jump right into the website design phase without considering the end user expectations. Website designers concentrate so much on the information architecture of a website that they tend to forget the user flows that are the basis of all conversions benefiting the website. We can either give up on end user just for the look (and all other silly adjectives) of our website or start giving priority to User Flows in order to increase the returns from the website.

So, once you have made up your mind that you will break the shackles of information architecture, aesthetic looks, user experience, responsive design and other silly terms then you can start reading further. It is time to design user flows.

Know Your Goal!

Oh please! Can we have a new sub-heading?

Actually, I know that “Know Your Goal” thing is an obvious subheading to start with but it fits well in this scenario. See, you cannot start designing user flows unless you know what you are going to design for. This is when it becomes important for designers to sit with their client and understand the basic purpose of the overall design. Are they looking for sales or are they looking for a page which they can get the visitors to sign up for their email list?

See, web designers must understand that the questions mentioned below aren’t the reason why you are designing a website:

  • Do you like the new design?
  • How is the new layout?
  • What do you think of the latest UI improvements? Are they impressive?

Clients might target positive answers to these questions but sooner or later they will understand that their positive reactions are good for nothing. At the end of the day conversions matter for any website and if the new design isn’t bringing in conversions (in whatever beneficial format) then the newness of the website is worthless.

Henceforth, next time when you have a website design project, think of the user flow which is going to benefit the overall design. Two major pointers that will help you keep a check on actual user flow and how to design for them are:

  • The business purpose of the website – These will decide the respective action that you will want the website visitor to take in order to help the client achieve the business purpose.
  • The user’s objectives – This is more like for-the-user tactic where the user flow is all about the user. Here the purpose of designer is to understand what exactly will the user look for from the website, their desires and their needs? At the end of the day it is all about satisfying these desires of the end-user.

Your User Is Your Goal. Explore Them!

We are discussing the importance of User Flow for a website henceforth it has to be the user who will make or break the website. The job of the website designer is to understand the users and their requirements. One needs to start with a detailed study of every possible website requirement and the kind of final product that the client is expecting. Some of the example user objectives to get you started are:

  • Finding specific content.
  • Buying a product.
  • Buying a gift for someone (which is different from buying a product for yourself).

Now, the hidden business objectives for which clients would want to launch a website that covers such user based requirements will be:

  • Increase subscriber base.
  • Sell specific product.
  • Earn leads.
  • Get the product promoted on social networking sites with the help of user only.
  • Create a database of contact details.

A website designer who clearly understands the requirement of both parties (user and end client) will have a sure advantage over those designers who aren’t putting importance on user flow.

Define the Start and End of Your User Flow

User Flow is a state diagram of sorts which defines the path that the user will follow when it visits a particular website. We must understand the initial point from where the user starts and where their should end. It is these two points between which the website designer will have to carve his own space that will give the requisite comfort to the user.

Typical mediums via which a user can enter your website are:

  • Subscriber Emails – Users can come from a newsletter email that is sent to them.
  • Social Media – Users can use your links in the social media world to land on your website.
  • Paid Advertising – Google AdWords campaigns and other similar paid advertising methods are an important way to guide users to your website.
  • Organic Search Queries – Google Traffic (which results from organic search queries on Google) is an important source for website traffic.
  • Referral Links or Press Publications - Users can come to your website via various blogs ( and other similar sources) that are talking about you.

Important Questions to Consider

When designing User Flow it is important to understand that detailed analysis of the requirements is a must. In order to get a clear picture of what users will be looking for, web designers must conduct in-depth interviews of their customers. Look, anybody can collect information that is nothing but speculation, but that is not how a website user flow is designed. Making stuff up as you go will take you nowhere.

So, take a printout of the following questions and add a few more from of your own. Then start answering each of them in as much detail as possible:

  • What unique features of your website or product are most appealing to the end-user?
  • Which kind of user would want to use these features?
  • Why would they want to use these features?
  • Are there any other desires that these users have?
  • What sort of problems are they facing in fulfilling these desires?
  • What kind of questions do they have about your website or product?
  • What are their hesitations?
  • What kind of information will they want if they plan to take any action?
  • How can you touch the user emotionally so as to make them perform the desired action?

Present Crystal Clear Information

I have always preached about being “Crystal Clear”. No matter what we are up to, we must understand the importance of Crystal Clear Information. I agree that most of us are here to earn a fortune and we are all very much determined to do anything that will help us reach that goal, but this should not mean that we start deceiving the end user just for a few extra dollars.

The purpose of User Flow is to fill in the gaps that are left while designing a website. This is done by following a detailed User Flow which covers every small pointer that concerns the user. See, the goal of a website designer is to shape the thought process of the user in a manner that they are determined to perform the action for which the website was designed. It is about optimizing every step which the user will perform in order to sell your product. Below pointers will help you shape the thought process of the user:

  • Every step (or webpage) that the users visits must present a very clear picture of what the whole setup is about and how it will benefit the user if they perform the next action.
  • Give the user detailed information and give them the offer to grab extra benefits if they perform the desired action. Also, make sure that these benefits are worth the user’s time.
  • The information presented must be easy to digest and the user should not feel like they might just get tricked.
  • Minimize the amount of friction that users face while moving forward. Look, if you ask for extra information from the user then it might just act as a turn off and they might hop to another window. Get the picture? Don’t ask users to perform actions that are of no benefit to either side.
  • Present very clear approaches to next steps so that users aren’t confused of what needs to be done.

Further Reading

User Flow is a science in itself and it cannot be mastered after reading just a couple of guides. It is a time-consuming process and requires web designer’s diligence to reap positive results. Below, we present you with more guides that can help you approach User Flow in a smarter fashions:

51 Written ArticlesWebsite

Salman Siddiqui is an alpha geek, design guru and seasoned WordPress critic. Writing, for him, started out of ego but it has become the most luring and enlightening career option of his life. He is walking that extra mile for his freelancing dream.

5 Comments Best Comments First
  • yingying

    Monday, April 9th, 2012 02:26

    4

    Great article Salman! Thank you!

    This article is the best I read in quite a while. I agree with you about the relationship between website design and business objective. It’s no longer a world that users want good look website, now as the internet flushes information into the world, how to let users find the desired info is much more important.

    +1
  • Responsive Design

    Tuesday, April 10th, 2012 01:51

    5

    Responsive design is merely a design aid to help you improve the user experience across an ever increasing breadth of available canvas.

    +1
  • Chris Anderson

    Friday, April 6th, 2012 14:33

    1

    Thank you for writing this Salman. I really agree – people get lost in all of the jargon (UX, UI, IA, etc.) and lose sight of what any website’s job is: to entice the visitor/user to take one or more specific actions, like buying a product, signing up for a free trial, subscribing to a newsletter, etc. And each action, as you did an excellent job of explaining, requires the user to go through a flow of steps to reach that final conversion point. I usually reference “user flows” as the most important pieces that make up the user experience.

    A few thoughts to further the discussion:
    1. Each page of a site should have specific goals as well. That’s the beauty of landing pages. Although the overall goal of the site is “x”, you may have a list of sub-goals that are specific to certain types of target visitors, and/or certain points in the sales process, whatever that may be for the given site.

    2. Going off of that point, each user flow generally starts (once the visitor’s on your site) with a call to action. Too offen I see sites that load pages with way too many calls to action, or not enough, or the calls to action are horribly executed. Since the CTA is the critical first step in a user flow, it’s pretty important to give it ample consideration (and test them!).

    Great post, thanks again Salman!

    0
  • user experience

    Friday, April 6th, 2012 15:38

    2

    I completely agree. However, there are room for improvements in all web design campaigns. So once someone successfully tests and publishes results, try it for yourself :)

    0
  • Mitch Ballard

    Saturday, April 7th, 2012 02:37

    3

    Good job salman, you have covered almost all the points in designing website and especially i like this part : Define the Start and End of Your User Flow
    Also your website should be interesting and provide the end users what they are searching for, in that sense you get considerable amount of returning visitors.

    -1
  • Responsive Design

    Tuesday, April 10th, 2012 01:51

    5

    Responsive design is merely a design aid to help you improve the user experience across an ever increasing breadth of available canvas.

    +1
  • yingying

    Monday, April 9th, 2012 02:26

    4

    Great article Salman! Thank you!

    This article is the best I read in quite a while. I agree with you about the relationship between website design and business objective. It’s no longer a world that users want good look website, now as the internet flushes information into the world, how to let users find the desired info is much more important.

    +1
  • Mitch Ballard

    Saturday, April 7th, 2012 02:37

    3

    Good job salman, you have covered almost all the points in designing website and especially i like this part : Define the Start and End of Your User Flow
    Also your website should be interesting and provide the end users what they are searching for, in that sense you get considerable amount of returning visitors.

    -1
  • user experience

    Friday, April 6th, 2012 15:38

    2

    I completely agree. However, there are room for improvements in all web design campaigns. So once someone successfully tests and publishes results, try it for yourself :)

    0
  • Chris Anderson

    Friday, April 6th, 2012 14:33

    1

    Thank you for writing this Salman. I really agree – people get lost in all of the jargon (UX, UI, IA, etc.) and lose sight of what any website’s job is: to entice the visitor/user to take one or more specific actions, like buying a product, signing up for a free trial, subscribing to a newsletter, etc. And each action, as you did an excellent job of explaining, requires the user to go through a flow of steps to reach that final conversion point. I usually reference “user flows” as the most important pieces that make up the user experience.

    A few thoughts to further the discussion:
    1. Each page of a site should have specific goals as well. That’s the beauty of landing pages. Although the overall goal of the site is “x”, you may have a list of sub-goals that are specific to certain types of target visitors, and/or certain points in the sales process, whatever that may be for the given site.

    2. Going off of that point, each user flow generally starts (once the visitor’s on your site) with a call to action. Too offen I see sites that load pages with way too many calls to action, or not enough, or the calls to action are horribly executed. Since the CTA is the critical first step in a user flow, it’s pretty important to give it ample consideration (and test them!).

    Great post, thanks again Salman!

    0

Comments are closed.

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