What do we mean when we talk about user journeys in web design?

Find out all about user journeys in this blog: what they are, why they’re important in web design and what exactly they should look like.

Picture of Lauren Nuttall Lauren Nuttall

Published: 23 Jul 2020

5 minutes read

What do we mean when we talk about user journeys in web design?

For many businesses, when creating a new product or developing a new service, the fundamental question is usually: “how will our customers actually use it?”. In order to answer this, product or service designers have to put themselves in the perspective of the customer, and seek to understand the entire customer experience - right from when the customer finds their product, through to them actually using it. Without this important exercise, organisations would be creating products or services that don’t relate to anyone, or solve any potential customer problems - which, quite frankly, is just bad business.

User journeys follow this same principle, and are just as important. They should be used when designing a website to ensure that your site (like your products or services) aligns with your customers’ needs, challenges and behaviours. However, that’s just the surface level of what a user journey actually is, and why they are extremely important when it comes to web design. Let’s find out more.

What are user journeys?

User journeys refer to the paths users take to reach their goals when navigating a website, and are used in the design process to identify all the possible ways a user may move around a site, while defining the best way for them to reach their goal as quickly as possible.

Often, web designers will create user journey maps, which can be visual diagrams that illustrate the “flow” users will take throughout a website - from initial discovery of the site, to engagement, to purchase and long term advocacy of your product or service beyond purchase. A user journey map will also define the key interactions, or “touch points” within a website, and describe what the user’s motivations, feelings and goals are at each individual step. 

Each user will have a goal they need to reach, and user journey maps provide visual representation of how the user will accomplish it, bearing in mind best practice UX at each stage (such as clear copy, imagery and other general aesthetics). Once a user journey has been outlined, it forms the foundation for how a website will function - from design to copy. User journeys are absolutely essential when it comes to designing a website, and the user journey map is something that shouldn’t ever be missed.

Why are user journeys important?

Using user journeys in website design in particular has a number of clear advantages. First of all, researching your site users gives you a huge insight into how your customers navigate your website, and the products or services they’re most interested in. Additionally, the user journey map provides clarification on how simple or difficult it is for typical users to reach their goals on your website. Planning this in detail accelerates the website development stage because issues can be highlighted early on in the process. Not only this, it gives you a good indication of how your website should work, what content or functionality is needed to support how users navigate the site, and any missing elements that should be added.

Developing your website around your user journey not only gives you confidence that the finished product will do what you intended it to, it gives you a source of information to refer back to if your website design goes slightly off track. 

For more tips on designing a website that will help you meet your users’ goals, get your free download: 6 Steps to Designing a B2B Website for Lead Generation.

Are there any disadvantages to user journeys?

Ultimately, no. However, user journeys are often one of those ideas that may be better in theory than in practice, depending on your business, and how you choose to go about creating them. Often, creating the perfect user journey is difficult, as it can be challenging to really get into the mind of the customer without business objectives and biases coming into play.

While this isn’t necessarily a disadvantage to using user journeys, it’s something to bear in mind when creating one. In the initial design stages, it’s important to balance user and business goals to avoid conflict, and to cover all angles. If you don’t do this, you risk the user journey being too biased, and coming from what the business wants the user to do, rather than what the user actually does. 

How do I create a user journey?

In order to create a user journey, you should have already done preliminary research on your typical customer - or, your buyer persona. Once you’ve done this research on your users, you should be aware of:

  • Their goals and motivations
  • Their challenges or pain points
  • An idea of their overall character

The more information you can gather about your users, the better! It’s always great to get a really thorough idea of just exactly who will be engaging with your site, as it will enable you to better provide them with what they need.

Once you have done sufficient research, you can begin creating your user journey. It should contain a series of steps leading up to an outcome, and you’ll need to think about various factors at each stage, including:

  • Context - consider where the user is when browsing your site, and what external factors could be influencing them while they are engaging. Also think about what device they are accessing your site on, as different devices could result in different outcomes.
  • Progression - think of each stage as a passageway, and consider how each stage enables movement through to the next. For example, think of where you need to place CTAs in order to get the user to where you want them to be.
  • Functionality - debate if there is any functionality you could add at each stage to make the progression easier. 
  • Emotion - this is an important one. When designing anything you need to think about the users emotions, and how they will respond to different pages on your site.

It’s important to note that it’s worth consulting your web developer at this point, as you need to confirm that what you wish to do (for example, if you wanted a cool, yet potentially difficult piece of functionality) is actually possible. 

What should my user journey look like?

There’s no standard ‘template’ for what your user journey should look like; after all, it’s for your personal business use, so as long as it communicates your ideas well, any way you want to present it is fine. However, we would recommend making your user journey visual where possible. For example, you could include a picture of the ‘user’, or illustrations of what will happen in each stage, to help the relevant people understand it better - however, on that front, it’s entirely up to you.

All that matters is that your user journey is detailed and accurate. This is important - without detail, there isn’t much point in the user journey in the first place, and likewise, if you aren’t using accurate information. While a good user journey can be difficult to get right, it will more than pay off in the long run.

Creating your user journey is just the first step in developing a website that moves users through their buyer’s journey - there are many more. It’s one thing to create a website that your users love - but converting them into customers should be your main goal. To learn more about designing a website for lead generation, check out our free download: 6 Steps to Designing a B2B Website for Lead Generation.

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