Understanding the User Flow for your site is something that is promoted heavily by all UX designers and a lot of other professionals in surrounding fields. It’s not a surprise since if you are able to get a really strong handle on the user flow, then you have a very valuable insight into your users themselves and that specific area in which your intentions and your customers intentions ideally align. Much can be done to affect the user flow, and its development is an issue of fine balances. Changing even a tiny amount at one stage in the user flow can have an extraordinarily large impact on the rest of the experience. Optimizing your user flow is a specific and important skill which, when completed effectively, can result in a huge boost to your site. When misunderstood, it can lead to disaster. So, with that said, let’s take a look at some tips for creating more effective user flows.
Know Your Audience
This is the most important step to optimizing your user flows, by a considerable margin. It doesn’t matter how much research you’ve done on user flow techniques or previous examples of user flows being utilized to great effect, if you haven’t understood the types of people that use your site or your app, you will fall at the first hurdle. “Knowing your audience is more than picturing what you think ‘normal’ people would do. There’s no such thing. Whether you get to it through rigorous product testing, focus grouping, market research or any other method, you need as complete a picture of the users for your product to begin to piece together how they will possibly make their way through the experience you are cultivating for them”, explains Michael Sitwell. Knowing your audience is the fundamental building block for the entire process and ought to inform just about every single decision that you make with regards to your user flow. No amount of time is enough when it comes to devoting yourself to establishing this.
In the build up to the release of an app or a website there is usually an immense amount of work that is needed to be done, with everyone on the time going all guns blazing to try and make sure that things are working effectively ahead of release. The tendency then is for there to be a sense in which everyone collapses in a heap upon release. The really important thing to remember, as grueling as it might be, is that that isn’t where things end. Optimizing the user flow involves adapting it to meet two changing standards: what you want to achieve through your site or app, and the nature of your userbase. The former standard probably won’t change all that much (though when it does it will be a dramatic shift in all likelihood), and the latter is changing a small amount all the time. You need to be constantly evaluating all of the possible alterations you need to make to your user flow construction to find lasting success.
The test phase of any alteration you make that could affect the user flow is very important and shouldn’t be skimped on. Aim for all of your changes to be put through a thorough test phase before being given the green light so that there aren’t any surprises when the change is out in the public. “Testing allows you to make those adjustments to user flow that you don’t necessarily want the users to know about. Sometimes users knowing that a change has been made to the UX [user experience] can actually create an altogether different reaction, which can be frustratingly unpredictable”, notes Louise Carver, website admin at Draft Beyond and Research Papers UK.
If In Doubt, Strip Back
User flow is difficult to monitor at the best of times. If you are having trouble seeing the causal link between a design element and a user behavior, then strip everything back and analyze whether content clutter is causing problems.
User flow is one of those indicators that you need to cling on to as a website or app designer. It teaches you so much valuable data that it is vital you don’t ignore about what your customers are all up to and how your decisions affect their reactions. Use it wisely!