If you’re like most product execs, it’s a challenge to get your team to agree on the nuances of how users should accomplish even the tiniest tasks within your digital application. Let alone decide how each different task should fit together into one seamless — and gratifying — user experience that keeps customers coming back.
Your team creates plenty of wireframes. You even have detailed user journeys mapped out. Still, your product feels like a collection of features instead of a cohesive platform. And it’s taking longer than it should for anything to get done.
That’s because you’re missing a crucial project development document: A UX flow.
What Is a UX Flow?
A UX flow outlines every single screen state needed for users to fully execute all in-app tasks. It combines the concepts of a sitemap and a classic flow chart. However, unlike sitemaps, UX flows aren’t strictly hierarchical or structurally-driven. They also offer a detailed view of how users move between screens within your application.
You might be thinking, how is this different from a user journey map, another important aspect of product development?
A user journey map is simply a linear, procedural timeline for how someone experiences a task. A UX flow, on the other hand, illustrates how each user journey is connected in one view. Put another way, each user journey is like an individual puzzle piece, and the UX flow is the completed puzzle.
At the end of the day, a well-constructed UX flow serves as a single source of truth for how a digital application should be built.
How UX Flows Reveal Bonus User-Centric Functionality
Imagine you work for Charles Schwab. Your team is responsible for figuring out the easiest ways for users to purchase a new equity on your app.
First, your team analyzes the sitemap. They see there’s a homepage that lists all of the equities options. Then, they note that each equity has its own tailored detail page. Additionally, there’s a page for users to place their orders, accessible from each equity’s detail page.
What your team decidedly can’t discern from the sitemap are all the varying ways users can navigate through and between each of these pages.
Let’s say your team creates a UX flow for the task of purchasing equities. They document all of the paths users might take before hitting that purchase button. As they’re following each line from the equities homepage to the purchase page, someone notices there’s no buy button on the equities homepage. Users must wait until they’re on the detail pages to add to cart. But, if they could skip a step and go directly from the listing to purchasing, you might attract more customers.
And just like that, you’ve removed a barrier to purchase. Whoa.
In sum, the UX flow highlighted the roads users travel to purchase and, therefore, revealed user-friendly functionality (the added buy button) that might not have come to light otherwise.
How UX Flows Optimize Product Development for Your Entire Team
The example above outlines how a UX flow can improve overall user experience — but that’s just the tip of the iceberg as far as UX flow benefits.
We already mentioned that a UX flow is a single source of truth. It’s an anchor all team members can reference to figure out how any one workflow or task should function. Beyond this benefit to your team at large, a UX flow benefits each department uniquely.
Designers Identify Opportunities for Consistent, Repeatable Design Elements
Part of creating an exceptional user experience through design is ensuring consistency across all parts of your application. If users see a certain element — say a CTA button — on your homepage and on your about page, they expect the same look and feel from that button both times they encounter it.
Obviously, it’s a designer’s job to design those buttons. With a UX flow, they can easily look at all the screen states where buttons appear and design one button (that can be tweaked as needed) to use in all locations. Without a UX flow, designers might end up creating different buttons for each instance, causing inconsistencies that frustrate and confuse users. Not to mention added costs associated with the extraneous button design.
Take the button out of it. A UX flow has the power to reveal any and all similarities across screen states. And these similarities turn into opportunities for designers to streamline their designs and simplify UIs everywhere.
Sure, designers might discover similarities between pages from other project documents. But a UX flow aggregates it in one accessible place early in the project so it’s easier and faster to pick out these similarities.
Developers Create More Accurate Products from UX Flow Data
A UX flow takes a lot of guesswork out of projects for developers. Why? Because developers can look at a UX flow and know:
- How the data model needs to be put together
- What functionality is required for the app
- What information has to be pushed up to the screen
Developers can even add to UX flows to better serve them, marking instances where something is editable, or where user input is required. In turn, this makes the engineers’ jobs easier.
It comes down to this: A UX flow gives developers the data they need to make the application work properly with more certainty.
Execs See How the App Satisfies Users while Saving Time and Money
Your c-suite stakeholders desperately want top-notch UX because, for the most part, they know it leads to happy, loyal customers — and makes more money. At the same time, they might not understand the in-the-weeds, technical side of product dev.
Let’s revisit our ARKK Innovation ETFs example to explain how a UX flow can help.
An executive asks, “What if a user wants to search for a stock by name?” With a UX flow in hand, your UX leader can point to, literally, the line in the chart where that user need is met and that task is covered.
Clearly, a UX flow shows execs the big picture of how your app will work for users. But that’s not the only benefit.
Think back on how designers can use UX flows to avoid duplicative work. Stakeholders are always pushing back against projects that take too long and require costly revisions. They’ll be thrilled to know designers (to name just one example) can save time and effort with a UX flow.
Our Time-Tested Approach to UX Flows
You may be using UX flows in your company. Good for you — that’s better than some. Still, we’d bet you’re using it more as a documentation tool rather than the powerful decision-making tool it can be.
At Nine Labs, we only create UX flows with genuine decision-making potential.
And we’ve been creating them for our clients since long before it was trendy. In fact, UX flows always come out of the “Define” stage of our process.
If your team is working on a new product, we’ll start your UX flow together from scratch. If you’re optimizing an existing product, we’ll document your UX as is. Even if you already have a UX flow, we will validate it against your app to ensure accuracy.
Ready to have a complete picture of your application to refer to time and again? Get in touch!
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Whatever you’re building, our workshops and project engagements can help you do it better. Reach out to discuss your project or request a quote.