What’s the difference between a user journey and a user flow? UX Question #54

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Gail from Birmingham, Alabama asks: What’s the difference between a user journey and a user flow?

I love that question. Thanks for asking, Gail. This is UX Question number 54 and I am Ben Judy.

What’s the difference between a user journey and a user flow? I’ll give you three similarities and three differences in under three minutes.

Both are common and important artifacts created by UX designers.

Both serve to visualize the steps a user will take while interacting with a product or service.

And both can help you quickly identify areas where the user may have emotional highs or lows, or encounter difficulties or confusion.

That’s how user journey maps and user flow diagrams are similar. Here’s how they’re different.

One difference is the time scale. A user journey map will allow you to plot every step of a user’s experience, including what they do before, during and after using your website or application. A user flow diagram will start when the user starts using the software and end when their session ends.

Another difference is in the information presented. A user journey map will contain a broader set of info including touchpoints, emotions, pain points, and opportunities for improvement. The focus of a journey map is what users see, hear, think, feel, say and do while they interact with your digital products. It should highlight critical aspects of the user experience, to include multiple channels—websites, mobile apps, kiosks, email or social communications, and more.

A user flow diagram will contain a narrower set of info, including names and maybe brief descriptions of UI screens, user input or interactions with the app, and key decision points. The focus of the user flow diagram is interaction design; mainly to show the possible paths a user might take through the screens or interactive steps of an application.

A third and final difference is the intended audience. Journey maps are great for product managers, marketing specialists, and customer experience partners. User flows are great to share with solution engineers or software developers.

In any given UX project, you can choose to create either of these artifacts—or both. You don’t have to choose one or the other. In fact, they can work quite well together, with the user journey map painting the big picture of the end to end user experience, and the flow diagram filling in details of their interaction with a website or app.

Keep asking your questions about UX. Next time, I’ll answer the question: What does a UX hiring manager look for?

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