User Flow Optimization: Simplifying User Journeys to Increase Conversions and Engagement

2/22/2024
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Minute Read Time
Will Breen
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Summary: We review the design of user flow optimization, revealing strategies and insights to streamline users' online interactions with a product. By breaking down the complexity of user journeys, we aim to provide actionable steps that can be implemented to improve an application's UX, ultimately leading to heightened conversions and user engagement.

As a product owner, my goal is to ensure that users have seamless access to the tools they need for success. However, achieving this is often easier said than done. In this article, I will outline simple steps that product owners can take to enhance their customers' software experience by simplifying tasks and streamlining processes. I will also provide unique insights to help you improve your software experience today.

Identifying Pain Points in Current User Flows

Before we delve into potential solutions, let's first discuss how I identify pain points in UX. Reviewing the same software repeatedly can become dull, which hinders the project's success without a fresh perspective. When I encounter design challenges, I find it beneficial to pause and seek input from other team members or external sources to gather their insights on the experience. To ensure focused discussions, I ask specific questions about particular aspects of the app. Otherwise, I often receive feedback regarding color choices or layout. I repeat this process 2-3 times until I identify at least one common idea about the most significant pain points.

I'm not always able to find the time to connect or reach out to others as I prefer. So, I consider a second option. Another method I employ to identify pain points is by reviewing the experience as if I were a new user. I intentionally push the software to its limits, striving to break the experience. Whenever I encounter a moment of pause or notice any inconsistencies, I make a point to take note. This way, I can continue with the experience and reference my notes later for realistic revisions. There are numerous ways to identify issues within an experience; however, I always ensure that my audits are focused on the user experience rather than the user interface's minor details. The UI elements can be easily changed, but the holistic experience cannot.

Principles of Simplifying User Journeys

Not all of us are expert product designers, so how can someone ensure a simplified user journey? My approach always begins with creating designs that are laser-focused on the user's tasks. Often, when I join a project after the initial concept is formed, the main issue lies in the team's lack of alignment regarding the user's needs. Before I dive into designing anything, I make sure I understand where the user starts and where they should end the session. To achieve this, I concisely explain Jobs-To-Be-Done, typically consisting of 3-4 key aspects. Adding more than that can quickly dilute the user experience.

The primary objective is to craft user journeys that seamlessly integrate into users' workflows, enabling them to accomplish their tasks with greater effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction. As an example, I collaborated with a client who developed a seizure response app for children. The team had envisioned multiple ways for the ideal user to complete the process. However, considering the task's nature and context, I further emphasized the necessity for a simple and streamlined process, which the team agreed upon as the most suitable approach given the project's complexity.

Example UX Outline

Continuing with the same project example, the platform's "UX Outline" or the user journey map that supported the rationale for streamlining the Jobs-To-Be-Done (JTBD) approach is presented above. Implementing the JTBD framework involves shifting the focus from identifying the users to understanding their goals. This involves understanding the user's interaction context with the product and their desired outcomes. In the image example, each square represents a distinct element, told apart by its unique color. For simplicity, the blue square represents the user's action or available options, while the orange squares depict the specific content required on the screen. These squares are interconnected hierarchically or via links, guiding users to their next steps.

I begin the UX outline by noting the "Global Navigation;" these are screens or pages that the user consistently has access to and always remains visible. Taking the example mentioned earlier, the user had three "global nav" items: dashboard, recordings, and settings. I utilize the screen title element to highlight these global items before outlining the specific actions. This approach allows me to comprehend how primary navigation items connect.

I proceed to document the details associated with each item in the NAV. For instance, on the app's dashboard, the user is presented with a question and can either create a new recording or view previous options. Depending on their selection, the user will either transition to the recordings screen or a "secondary" screen to initiate a new recording. With the aid of the UX outline, I gain a better understanding of the distinct actions and connection points chosen by the user, even before I have designed any screens.

Depending on the complexity of an HMI, the process of outlining the UX can become time-consuming due to the multitude of connections or steps involved. Considering the previous example, even though the project only had three global navigation items, I still had to create numerous connection points and showcase details of the exact steps the user would follow and the necessary processing, even if the user didn't require any specific action.

Investing time to ideate through and outline the details of an experience before diving into the design phase is well worth the extra effort. By having a comprehensive overview of the HMI's experience prior to designing any screens, I can ensure that all elements and required screens have their rightful place in the interface. This process also helps me consider the entire experience from start to finish, enabling me to identify any missing connections before sharing the outline with the team.

Another significant benefit of outlining the HMI's UX is the improved collaboration with the development team before the design work begins. With the outline, the development team can also review the HMI's experience and better understand how data is inputted, retrieved, or requested. This allows developers to plan ahead for lengthy timelines or any technical elements that may not have been initially considered. Instead of repeatedly designing an HMI from scratch, I can utilize a "UX outline" to define the experience, ensuring alignment between user and business goals before diving into the interface design.

Small Changes, Big Impact: Incremental Improvements in User Flow

Now that I have sparked your thoughts, I must acknowledge that this process may appear lengthy and unrealistic for short deadlines. So, what actionable steps can someone take today to enhance the user flow?

During the projects where I stepped in after the project had already started, the primary goal was to get the experience fixed as soon as possible, so the team didn't have much time to outline the entire UX before making updates.

In this case, I aim to achieve "incremental improvements," which refer to making small, successive changes to a product's design in order to enhance its performance, usability, and aesthetic coherence. These "minor updates" may involve revising the displayed text or refining the elements' hierarchy. Whenever I'm asked about making minor updates that can contribute to a better product, I always consider the following:

  • Text or Copywriting Revisions: Consider updating the instructions or directions displayed on the screen. If no instructions are provided, make sure to include them.
  • Hierarchy: Often, design elements are not properly arranged on a screen. For instance, a subheading might be placed both above and below the main heading, or instructions might be positioned above instead of below a button. When assessing hierarchy, I always consider what I want to see first as a person using the screen. Should I read the heading first? If so, I would place that item at the top of the screen.
  • Contrast: It is unfortunate that I frequently come across HMIs that do not adhere to proper contrast for optimal accessibility. While this topic has many details, the primary concern is the visibility of all screen elements. For example, imagine a screen with a dark background and light grey text. If a button is added with light grey text and a dark button background, it creates a contrast issue as the button should have a different color than the background. Additionally, if an HMI has a dark background color, I recommend using a bright, clean-colored text style
  • Unnecessary Steps: Last, I always review the items on each screen and ensure they have a valid reason for being there. It is not uncommon to find an HMI that tries to include everything in one dashboard. However, I have long abandoned this practice. I assume that the person using my interface will try to interact with all the actions presented to them. Therefore, every item on the screen must have a justifiable purpose for remaining in its position. I highly recommend capturing the HMI's primary screens and examining all the details presented. I never know which items might make or break the experience.

Upon reviewing the above suggestions, one might feel overwhelmed by the workload required to achieve an optimized user flow. However, there is no need for this feeling to continue. Even if a project is in a "worst case" scenario, I rarely advise starting from scratch. Instead, I propose working with the existing elements I have already presented. Enhancing the minor aspects mentioned earlier will only take the interface so far before the audience raises further concerns.

However, in order to fully grasp the problem, it is important to highlight the existing enhancements. This is where I initiate a process like A/B Testing, which allows me to gather valuable user insights regarding their preferences and expectations for the future. By adopting an iterative approach to optimization, I can effectively support both the ideal user experience and the business objectives. I can address the root cause of engagement issues and identify the optimal refinements for the audience.

Enhancing Conversions through Simplified User Experiences

Before concluding this topic, I would like to share one last important point: the impact of a simplified user experience on business improvement. When an HMI ensures an appropriate and user-friendly experience, it empowers businesses to enhance efficiency and productivity among their staff. A simple and intuitive interface reduces the time required to onboard new employees or clients. Moreover, it guides users on an intuitive journey, making it easy to follow and encouraging repeat usage. It is important to note that the ultimate goal of optimizing a business's conversions is not solely focused on increasing product sales. In fact, this approach may not be the most effective when considering the importance of simplifying the overall user experience.

I approach "conversions" by prioritizing users' ability to accomplish their goals quickly. Rather than focusing on point-of-sale actions, I strive to create a streamlined and productive process that delivers the desired outcome while saving time and effort for the person. By emphasizing the value our product provides to individuals, we can cultivate repeat usage and support long-term relationships, ultimately supporting a business's bottom line.

A simplified user experience ensures that users can effortlessly focus on achieving their desired outcomes. By eliminating unnecessary complexities, we empower users to fully utilize the tool without wasting time on learning how to navigate it. Streamlining the experience enables users to make prompt decisions on leveraging our product to their best advantage. Throughout this process, I keep the ideal user of an HMI at the forefront of my decision-making. By actively listening to user feedback, I can continuously enhance their ability to complete tasks seamlessly without disrupting productivity.

Conclusion

In summation, the path to optimizing conversions lies in amplifying sales figures and refining the user experience to be as efficient and user-friendly as possible. By tailoring the design and functionality of our tools, we place users' goal attainment at the core of our strategy, going beyond transient transactions to forge lasting loyalty and repeat engagement. Listening to and integrating user feedback is crucial as it ensures our product evolves in sync with users' needs, leading to intuitive navigation and decision-making processes. Ultimately, a commitment to simplifying users' journeys aligns with broader business objectives, fueling sustainable growth and solidifying our product's position in the market.

Key Takeaways

  • Simplified Your UX: Ensure the product is designed with the user in mind, allowing them to accomplish their goals with ease and boosting overall satisfaction.
  • Monitor & Incorporate Feedback: Actively seek and listen to user feedback to continually refine the product, ensuring its evolution closely aligns with user necessities and preferences.
  • Focus on Long-Term: Look beyond initial conversions and prioritize repeat usage to build loyalty and support sustainable business growth.
  • Align Product Strategy with User Goals: Tailor the design and functionality to users' objectives, ensuring the product facilitates intuitive navigation and decision-making for enhanced user efficiency.