Many years ago, I read and was inspired by Seth Godin's book on user flow design, The Big Red Fez.
Seth never used the term "user flow" if I remember correctly. But The Big Red Fez was all about the desirability of articulating the goal of one's website, then designing the "funnel" to control the user's journey from his/her arrival on the site's home page or other landing page, through intermediate steps or pages, and on to the desired goal.
Today, Smashing UX Design features another take on this idea of crafting the funnel - Stop Designing Pages And Start Designing Flows. The article makes many of the same points that Seth made 10 years ago, but it's aimed at Web professionals, where Seth's book was aimed at business owners and what Paul Boag calls website owners.
One point in the Smashing Magazine article that I don't remember from Seth's book is the idea of stacking funnels. It's based on a well-known principle in big-ticket sales and marketing - that you usually can't make a big-ticket sale without developing a relationship first.
In Web marketing, this relationship-building may be the first "sale" - that is, first-time visitors arrive on your site thanks to a Facebook ad or a link on a friend's Wall, or perhaps a banner ad on another site. You build a User Experience (UX) "funnel" to convert those first-time, low-information visitors into subscribers (say, to an RSS feed or email newsletter). The output of that UX funnel is the input to the "real" funnel - that is, a link from a newsletter taking the subscriber directly to a product page and a purchase.
Reading the article has caused me to reassess my strategy for a site I'm doing for a local nonprofit organization. I'd been thinking of little more than an online brochure, but reading the Smashing Mag article has reminded me that a proper job requires more than a brochure page.
I recommend Stop Designing Pages And Start Designing Flows to anyone learning to design Web sites. Even if your expertise is more technical and less marketing, the insights in this article are invaluable for any Web professional.