Task Flows vs. User Flows (Key Differences & Essential Tips)

Rea Terzin
March 18, 2022
9-minute read
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But how do these UX concepts differentiate? How to build user flow and task flow diagrams? What is their purpose in the design process? 

Although both of these flow charts focus on the best possible user experience, they differ in some instances.  

It's time to resolve this confusion about task flows vs. user flows once and for all.


Understanding the importance of UX Flows       

Less is only more when more is no good

This is an old notion, and it holds true not only for the period in which Frank Lloyd Wright (whose quote is this) lived but for all historical eras that ever passed on this world. It must now be clear to everyone who has any interest in UX design that this thought reflects the UX flow concept at the core.

UX flow is all about examining, simplifying and reducing the user's steps while interacting with the product/service.

We can see this best in the idea behind architecture.

Architecture is an inevitable art for our physical needs. We are forced to interact with it as a result of our daily lives. Thus, only architecture is undoubtedly far more approachable than sculpture and painting.

Our living experience will be poor if the building doesn't have a solid structure, a good roof and if it's not made of quality materials. Similarly, a poorly designed and badly functioning product/service will negatively affect the user experience.

Hence, as an architect cannot start creating an architectural plan before thinking about functionality, the UX designer cannot begin developing any product without a strategy (such as UX design flow).

UX design flow example
Credit image: Rea Terzin’s archive piece adjusted in Canva

Now let's revisit our starting point: UX flow is all about how the user (resident) will interact with the final product/service (architecture)

Both architecture and UX design must answer to the demands of practical human needs and aesthetics.

What are User Flows?

User flows, commonly known as flow charts or UX flows, are maps or diagrams showing how a user navigates through an app. Designers draw them by hand or digitally to the tiniest detail. These UX flow diagrams depict every step a user might take from start to finish. They can apply from mobile applications to websites and other interfaces.

A user flow helps designers complete a product design more efficiently. To create a user-friendly product/app, designers must put themselves into users' shoes. Only that way can they fully understand their cognitive patterns.  

Depending on who their target audience is, user flows can differ. The main aim is to help users to achieve specific goals as easily as possible. Users might want to buy a particular product, make a reservation for a service, sign up for a specific plan etc. User flow thus helps you identify what drives your users to make a purchase and what might deter them from doing so.

Why are User Flows important? 

User flows are essential for increasing customer satisfaction and successful conversions.

User flow mapping helps designers predict all possible users' actions on each page. A user flow is thus useful for the design team working on different production stages. For example, designers can reduce the number of clicks and increase the ease of user’s movement through any product/app.

User Flows - examples and best practices    

User flows must be developed at the early stage of your design. However, before diving into the creation of a user flow strategy, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who is your user?
  • In what way is the user trying to accomplish some task?
  • What are users' possible pain points?
  • How to avoid losing users during the signup process?
  • How to give users enough information to complete each task successfully at all stages?
  • When to provide users with extra information, and when not?
  • Are additional pages of your app/website good or bad for the overall user experience?

Once your research about users has been conducted, you can start creating user flows. This process can help you focus on your user's needs and pinpoint a business objective. 

The best way to design user flow is to define elements first. Here is the breakdown of the most common user flow elements:

  • Circle: Entry/Exit points
  • Rectangle: Page or Process
  • Lines: Connect or Arrow
  • Diamonds: Decision
  • Parallelogram: Input/Output

The key to creating user flow is to break down the motivations and actions of users into smaller components. Make sure to keep the user flow as simple as possible.

First off, you should always have a name for your user flow to avoid confusion. For example, the "navigation from the home page to log in or sign up" section.

Here is a simple user flow example.

A good user flow example starts with a clear entry point.  It also has a clear legend with different colors. Keep in mind that it may be necessary to revisit and edit user flows if the design needs to be improved.

Make sure to understand each step (login or signup screens, onboarding, etc.) vital to achieving users' ultimate goal. Moreover, the final screen (sign up, confirmation screen) or accomplished task must be clearly defined in a user flow.

What are Task Flows? 

Task flows diagrams tend to be linear rather than inclined, focusing on the user's journey and actions they want to complete. As a result, these UX diagrams help designers to interpret only one singular user's path

There are no decision points or possible issues users may face during their interaction with a product/service. Consequently, task flows cannot convey a certain, higher idea that different users might encounter various paths and even obstacles. Instead, the flow should simply guide the user from the entry point of the task, through every step and toward the desired result. 

Why are Task Flows important?

A task flow is important for defining a specific user's path to completing a simple goal that does not contain many subtasks. For example, a task such as 'unsubscribe' or 'sign up'  is likely to be performed in the same way by all users.

There is no complexity or variation in how the task is carried out.                            

Task Flows - examples and best practices    

Task flows are linear and don’t contain branches. All users share a common starting and end point. No options, no decisions.  

Task flow is thus much simpler to design and contains only one simple symbol. There are a lot of UX task flow examples you can find online, and we are providing you with the simplest one:

Even if we were to allow the fact that this example of task flow focuses on individual tasks, it still could not be said that this diagram was created to understand the customer journey in the fullest sense. Instead, it is meant to understand only specific user tasks.

Additional UX Flows you need to know about  

Yes, there are more flows in UX design. All these types of UX flow help designers craft information about users better and define their steps within (future) products/services.  

So, ready for more UX flows?

Work Flows      

A workflow is a visual diagram of predefined activities that are necessary to produce desired results. As you design a user workflow, you can see the measurement of outcomes and how the results can be accomplished.

This type of UX flow indicates relationships between steps and all relevant information on how each task should be completed. An accurate workflow design will facilitate decision-making and give all stakeholders an overview of every task. 

Screen Flows

A screen flow, commonly known as wire flow, is defined as a combination of flowcharts and wireframes. They map out customer journeys in highly detailed terms, focusing on a complete flow. The main aim is also to showcase a product's real size and future look.

screen flow wire flow wireframe
Credit image: community.uxmastery

Wireframes help UX designers to enhance customers' interaction with services or products in the greatest sense.

Wire Flows

A wire flow, also known as a wireframe, represents a rough sketch of the digital interface or simply a digital sketch. Designers use wire framing tools to represent a web page or mobile app layout. They aim to clarify an overview of functional elements on each page structure. Wire flows are thus essential for improving intuitive positions for each page element.

wire flow digital sketch
Credit image: loka

UX designers use this type of UX flow to define the information hierarchy of their websites, apps, or products before they start fine-tuning their design. They are also suitable for enhancing navigational processes and designing clear calls to action.  

Bottom Line

Let’s revise the whole point behind task flow vs. user flow comparison.

 Task flows help you design a single task sequence that will be completed similarly by all users.

 User flows help you design various paths users might encounter during interaction with the product.

Both represent visual tools of great importance in the overall success of specific design categories, such as landing pages, web designs, product mock-ups, and more.

 So, take advantage of UX flows if you want to:

  • Improve positive impression of your product/app
  • Increase conversion rates
  • Eliminate users' paint points
  • Provide the best user experience
  • Become a master in the UX design

 Also, have your business objectives in mind, whether you are creating a user flow or task flow that is easy to understand. And don’t forget that users convert when they're presented with the right information in the right place. 

Yet the right place for the right UX design starts here.

Task Flows vs. User Flows Q&A                                  

What does user flow mean?

A user flow is a visual diagram that shows intuitive information architecture. It focuses on different paths users might take through some app or website to achieve a certain goal.

Why do we need user flow?

Product leaders must establish a better understanding of the users' needs. That way, they can gain insight into the functionality of a product. They need user flows to visualize all potential paths and issues users might encounter. And if they understand users’ needs, users will better understand their product/service.

How to build a user flow diagram?        

You can build a user flow diagram by using the most common shapes (circles, rectangles, lines, diamonds, parallelograms) that symbolize users' movements and needs. After conducting your user research, you can start creating user flows. 

What is a good user flow example?         

A good user flow example starts with clear entry points and ends with clear endpoints. It illustrates user navigation through the app simply and efficiently. User flow indicates all the information users need to accomplish a goal successfully. User flow chart examples are essential to be visually understandable so that the final product can be understandable to the user too.                 

What is the most significant difference between task flow and user flow I should never forget?                

The biggest difference between these concepts is the number of users' paths (tasks) they focus on. User flow examines all possible paths of users when navigating through an app, so it focuses on the customer journey in the fullest sense. In contrast, a task flow diagram aims to represent and understand only one singular path.

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