Design Insights

A guide to creating smooth user flows for your tech product

Sep 2019

5
min read

Discover how to make the user flows of your tech product as smooth and seamless as possible.

The ease with which your users can navigate the digital path of your tech product is critical to both acquisition and retention. 

First impressions count for everything, of course, but if your tech product is packed full of bumps and glitches all the way through your customer journey, you’ll encounter all sorts of bumps and glitches all the way through the journey of your very own business.

Let’s take a look at user flows in more detail and explore how they can be optimised to meet your long-term goals.

What are user flows?

Put simply, user flows in UX design are the visual representations of the paths people can take to complete certain tasks or actions in your tech product. 

Visually representing the paths your users will take to complete a task or action

They are typically depicted as a series of necessary actions taken by any given user in order to complete the task, such as onboarding in an app that requires a sign-up process. As part of the initial planning phase, these flows lead naturally into the wireframing and development of the interface designs. 

Design changes to these all-important aspects of your tech product can be costly if they are done once the UI has been established, so it can’t be stressed enough to get this right at the earliest possible opportunity (although it’s obviously not impossible to make improvements further down the line, as we’ll touch upon later).

A frictionless flow means no free-falling customers 

Think of it like a stream down a mountainside. The water takes the most natural course and flows down the path of least resistance around the rocks and trees. It’s exactly the same principle for the users in your app. 

Design the path of least resistance and they’ll flow through your app like water.

Many users are innately impatient when it comes to digital experiences, which means they can easily become frustrated with even the slightest of inconveniences. If your product makes it harder for them to complete their goals, they’ll leave and do what they need to do elsewhere. Worse still, they’ll remember it for all the wrong reasons and render your marketing budget redundant.

Keep the end-user’s needs in mind from the very beginning and refer back to them at every stage to avoid leading your eventual users down the wrong path and giving them a reason (or reasons) to leave. 

What makes a great user flow?

The single most important thing to bear in mind at all stages of the design process is the business objective you are looking to arrive at. Do you need them to sign up? Do you need to educate them about a new product or feature? Do you want to push them to upgrade from a free trial?

Consider it from your user’s perspective as an individual. What makes a great user flow is often easily visualised as a user yourself, so you need to understand any potential pain points, preferences and levels of experience either with technology in general or with your particular type of product.

Carefully consider different types of users, without falling into the trap of trying to please everyone. More specifically, your onboarding process might require multiple steps, but some users might prefer to skip a few of them - take Headspace, for example: you don’t have to supply all the information it asks for, but you get a more personalised experience afterwards if you do. 

Headspace app - An example of a well-optimised user flow

Your user flows can be expertly fine-tuned with this way of thinking if you deem it possible to discard any unnecessary questions or tasks before putting them into design. 

How to create a user flow

There’s no getting away from the fact that your user flows will be intrinsically connected to the rest of your product, but when it comes to creating them, it often helps to separate them out into individual experiences before considering the whole. You’ll get a much more detailed overview of your product and its UX if you can piece it all together this way.

An incredibly useful way of optimising this design process is to gather user feedback and pinpoint any friction they can encounter in the possible flows through your product.

This can often involve reducing the number of steps, for instance, if you experience a drop-off in engagement at certain points in the user journey.

When it comes to creating your own user flows, you might find some inspiration here; there are many great examples of common flows in popular products - and they’re tested and proven. Be careful not to replicate other user flows, though, as what works for one target audience might well be terrible for another.

Get inspiration for creating your user flows

My approach is to stick as closely as possible to three basic shapes in the user flows I design: rectangles, diamonds and arrows. This will give you enough flexibility when it comes to visualising what you want your users to do: 

  • Rectangles: Used to represent different screens within the app
  • Diamonds: Used to represent decisions the user will make within the app
  • Arrows: Used to display the connections between the screens and the decisions
Sticking to basic shapes to help define your user flows

Keep asking yourself ‘what do I want the user to do?’ and focus on that specific task to define the individual path(s) before you worry too much about the whole journey. 

It will never be a linear process, but you’ll have more success with the intricacies that way and your users will be happier because you've given consideration to their concerns section by section in order to give you a better overall view of the product at hand. 

An array of user flow tools are available to assist you here, but I often opt for Whimsical. It's simple in that it covers the basics well and it's collaborative in that it allows you to easily share your creations with other team members.

People change: Revisit your flows for continual UX optimisation

You or your team might well have created your user flows when you built your MVP - Redesigning your product presents a great opportunity to revisit them to identify any potential points of friction so you can improve your product further still. 

User feedback is the most crucial aspect of ongoing design improvements

It’s normal to feel close to your product and to take your own preconceptions to the table when you redesign any given element of it, but this can be seriously counter-productive. Ask your users in the same way a baker would ask the people who eat her cakes - what can be done to improve this? Where is it letting you down?

There are plenty of tools out there that can help you understand user engagement, too. Full Story is one great example of a tool that lets you record user behaviours and see for yourself how they are interacting with your product. 

Full Story - Record user behaviours to see how people interact with your product

The failures and frustrations will become clear when the patterns emerge - you can then utilise this knowledge to make the kinds of design improvements that will make your users happier and your bottom line healthier. 

Helping users to help you

Trial and error is one way to go about improving your user flows, but it can be costly and time-consuming. Instead, identify individual moments in your user journeys and hone in on the small tweaks that can be made to improve the overall experience.

By creating a smooth and frictionless user flow, you can ensure your tech product makes your users’ lives as easy as possible, which, in turn, means more engagement and a greater possibility of word-of-mouth recommendations. 

Do you need help with your user flows?

If you need help with the design of your tech product, don’t hesitate to get in touch and we’ll see what can be done to make your UX as intuitive and user-friendly as possible.

The good stuff

The not-so-good stuff

This article represents the opinion of experienced designer, Simon McCade, who has no association or affiliation with the company or the app in question.

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About the author

Hi, I'm Simon McCade. I help tech scaleups reduce the learning curve of their products, so they can increase free trial conversions.

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