At the heart of most good design processes is an understanding of the typical user journey. We speak that language at Kooba too. Starting from task analysis, we like to think clearly about the stages a user moves through to complete those tasks, and make that process as simple as possible.

We’re never going to stop doing that either. Our clients typically have business objectives that are met if visitors to sites or landing pages perform certain actions, and they quite rightly want to make sure as little as possible gets in the way.

But there is danger in taking too narrow a view of the user journey. Specifically, we can start to believe that our users are some sort of army of lemmings dutifully progressing through the site and never deviating from the paths that we send them down.

And life really isn’t like that.

Anyone who doubts that only needs to take a look at their own site statistics on Google Analytics and note the wildly diverse ways in which visitors travel through their site. Whilst the majority probably arrive on the home page, there is usually an extraordinary long tail of other entry points, and journeys through the site are more complex again.

What does all this mean? Well for marketers and web designers, it means we need to acknowledge that the flows and journeys we eagerly whiteboard are nothing more than an aspiration. Real life is messier.

Yes, we need to optimise common user journeys, but we also need to design in the knowledge that each individual is just that: an individual who will make their own way through our world.

Let’s find out what that looks like.

Designing for random user journeys

The first and most important step is a change in attitude. Don’t assume you know where people are coming from, or that you know where they are going.

User interviews will help with this. Get a feel for how digital experiences fit into the ‘whole package’ of interaction with the brand. In a B2C context, that will involve ensuring that digital experiences reflect other manifestations of the brand out in the wild, both visually but also in the sense of common or expected journeys. TV ads might send viewers to a specific page for example, but you should also design in the knowledge that many - and perhaps a majority - will go to the homepage.

Align messaging across multiple channels

Similarly in the B2B world understand that multi-channel journeys are common - and even less predictable. As information is shared around a prospect organisation you have very little control over who is exposed to what and when. Key decision makers may see only one page of a site via an email link - so work as hard as possible to ensure that everything you create stands alone without a huge amount of additional context.

Secondly, implement navigation that communicates context. The practical example is our old friend the breadcrumb trail, which gives a user arriving at any page a clear understanding of where they are and how to move ‘up a level’ if more context is required.

In the example from A&L Goodbody (a Kooba site) shown we use a contemporary breadcrumb trail to do just this: it is a deep site with a large amount of content relating both to people and services, and the breadcrumb helps anyone arriving at a specific page navigate back up without going all the way home.

It isn’t always necessary to implement this approach, but it is important to test user responses to individual pages to ensure that the navigation is clear no matter what the context - not just for those who arrive at the homepage. It should never be possible to get truly lost onsite.

Lastly, acknowledge that you can’t truly anticipate what users want next, and allow them to freely explore as much as possible.

In design terms, this usually means supporting an ability to drill deeper into any relevant content with links right there within the page. Users typically don’t want to work through menu items, they wish to freely explore and learn more about whatever catches their interest.

In the example shown below, from another Kooba site for Fing, note the in-line ability to learn more about whatever aspect of the product or company the user might be interested in. Build in this way - a way that allows users to make their own way and follow their own nose - without getting lost.

When you do, you’ll find your engagement rates - and the rest of the metrics you care about - start moving in the right direction! allows users to follow their nose

Journal full list