Journey Mapping and User Flow: The Key Differences

Journey mapping, like planning travel, starts at awareness.

The UX design process involves several parts that move in tandem like the parts of a well-oiled machine. Improving each part requires an understanding of the user and their intent. Two related methodologies in product design are user flow and journey mapping. A cursory glance of the two shows that they’re very similar but a closer inspection reveals some striking differences.

User flow deals with the actual steps involved in interacting with an app or website. Journey mapping, on the other hand, deals with the entire user journey. 

Keep reading to learn about the key differences between the two methodologies.  

Understanding User Flow

User flow is a series of steps users take to navigate through your app or site to complete a specific goal. The goal may be to purchase a product, find an answer to a question, or reach out to customer support. This process can involve several steps and various pages on your app and website. 

UX designers take a key interest in understanding user flow because it lets them design the ‘path of least resistance’ so the customers’ experience is rewarding.

When designing user flow, you need to be familiar with the following:

  • What are the user’s immediate goals?
  • What information do they need to proceed to the next step in the app or website?
  • What are the user’s barriers to completing their goals?

Finding the answers to these questions lets you focus on a product design that helps users achieve their end goals more effectively. Don’t have an answer to these questions yet? Check out our blog on best practices for conducting user testing to extract actionable insights about your product’s uses.  

User flows focus on all possible routes that customers will take to reach their end goal. Creating a user flow requires the integration of three key components:

  • The buyer persona of your customer base
  • Types of users and their very specific goals
  • All entry and exit points of the journey

User flow may not be a linear process and will contain several decision nodes, loops, and modes that reveal every possible interaction with the product or service. 

What is Journey Mapping?

In contrast to user flow, journey mapping captures the entire user experience with your company (as opposed to starting at the entry point of your app or website). When discussing journey mapping, designers theorize the complete path users take when interacting with your business: from the awareness stage when they realize they have a problem you might be able to solve, right up until the moment they select and use your product and provide feedback for their experiences. 

Here’s an example of journey mapping:

  • The user realizes they have a need 
  • The user types a search query on Google or Bing to find a possible solution for their need
  • The user realizes your company offers a solution due to an ad on social media based on their search history
  • The user interacts with your website and places an order
  • The user consumes your product
  • The user provides feedback for your product
  • User returns for a repeat order 

Journey mapping deals with the customer’s motivations, pain points, and emotions every step of the way. If done right, journey mapping can reveal the customer’s holistic relationship with your brand to help create more user-centric experiences.  

Understanding the Key Differences 

Clearly, journey mapping is more comprehensive than user flow. More specifically, journey mapping provides a ‘macro’ view of the customer lifecycle. User flow, on the other hand, drills down into the nitty-gritty details of how the product actually works when the customer interacts with it. 

Unlike journey mapping, user flows display the complete wireframe in a visual representation of each step and lays it out in great detail. User flows often feature clickable areas of the dashboard that connect customers to the next screen design. 

How to Improve User Flows

Users will be more likely to convert or return more if the app or website creates the path of least possible resistance. This is why some of the most successful apps ask for the minimum amount of information to reduce the total number of clicks/touches required to complete a goal. 

You can optimize for user flow by evaluating conversion rates. This means finding the steps that cause the most friction and eliminating them one by one. UX teams commonly look for abandonment flows, which are triggered when a user has only completed a few steps and does not follow through with their intent. Cart abandonment is an example of abandonment flows that many e-commerce websites commonly face. 

To solve this problem, UX teams test every step and see which areas cause the most friction. Once teams have a few theories on how to improve user flow, they design potential solutions and validate them with A/B testing to see which works best. 

How to Improve Journey Mapping 

It is important to evaluate buyer behavior at different stages of the purchasing process because customers interact with your business depending on where they are in their journey. Top of funnel prospects just beginning their journey behave differently than those ready to convert. 

While the best practices and design for journey mapping depend on the business, product, or service, they often include the following 3 basic steps:

1. Understanding Your Customer’s Goals

The more complex your industry, the more distinct your customers’ goals will be depending on the people involved with interacting with your brand. Some users might simply be gathering information for others in their organizations. Others empowered to purchase might be whittling down a list of potential vendors. Understanding the customer begins with understanding their goals, and recognizing they are not all the same.

2. Map Out Buyer Touchpoints

These are moments when users come into contact with your brand. They include offline and online moments, over the phone, and in person.

As an example, some users will prefer to engage with you via an app on the phone. Others will want to get in touch through live chat on the website. Another group may prefer to talk over the phone.

Some touchpoints have more value than others, though all need to be evaluated for a comprehensive view of user journeys. This way, you won’t miss any opportunities to listen to your customers and make improvements.

3. Identify Pain Points and Fix Them 

With the above information at your fingertips, it’s time to look at the bigger picture and identify pain points that negatively impact the customer journey. You can note areas that you’re doing right, and improve areas that aren’t doing so well.

To do this ask yourself the following questions:

  • What perception of your brand do users have when they first show up on your website or app?
  • How is this perception altered by the experience on your website or app?
  • Are users achieving their goals on the website and app?
  • What are the main areas of friction and frustration?
  • Which customer segments are having better or worse interactions with your brand?

Once you have identified the pain points, mark them down, and fix them one by one.

Wrapping Up

Creating a great user experience requires an understanding of user flow and journey mapping. Both are powerful tools used in product strategy and ensure you’re creating the best UX possible from all fronts. 

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