User flows are a communication tool to help the product team talk about the functions of the application before they have to build it. They show all the tasks your user has to complete in order to reach her goal, just like the task list, but using symbols and directional arrows that are the beginning of your user journey through your application.
User flows can be elaborate or very simple. What kind of flow you create depends on what kind of conversation you’re having since they change constantly as the application evolves. If you’re brainstorming with your product team you’ll probably want a simple sketch on a whiteboard that you can quickly erase and rewrite. If you’re presenting the user flow to the executive team, then a detailed flow that uses symbols and diagrams created in LucidChart is a better option.
Think about your favorite mobile app. What is your goal when you open it? What steps do you have to take to reach that goal, and what screens and buttons do you see while you take those steps.
That’s your flow through the application. That’s a user flow. Every application has at least one flow, and likely has many flows depending on the many goals a user might have in using it.
What do user flows look like? Well, they look like boxes with arrows pointing from them to other boxes. (There are other things called wire flows, in which the boxes are wireframes. We’ll get to those later.)
The hard thing about user flows is keeping to the point. It’s easy to start showing all the choices and all the screens in an app. But that’s not the point. You want to show one path to the user goal.
Later, you might show another path, or combine flows to show what happens when the user does something different.