Happy Path 101: A Short Guide for UX Designers

Happy Path 101: A Short Guide for UX Designers

Users that go through the happy path will encounter less friction, experience your product’s value and be more likely to keep using it. But the opposite will happen when your UX flows are friction-infested and leave the user unhappy.

If you’re curious about UX happy paths or want to create flows that lead to increased product/feature adoption, this short guide is for you!


  • The happy path is the error-free path that users take to achieve the desired result.
  • Happy flow simply refers to a visual representation of the happy path.
  • The key difference between the happy path and the golden path is that the former is focused on a specific part of the product, while the golden path deals more with optimizing the entire product.
  • Happy path user testing involves using a flow of carefully scripted inputs to produce the expected output. The goal is to see how the flows will work for the end user before rolling the product out.
  • There is no single universal term for the opposite of happy paths. Some people call it bad paths, others call it sad paths, and what have you, but the most used term is “unhappy path.”
  • There’s only one happy path that will enhance the customer journey. Valid alternatives will exist in many cases, but the most likely positive alternative is identified and labeled as the happy path.
  • Checklists and interactive walkthroughs will increase the chance of customers sticking to the happy path.
  • Guide users on the happy path to adopting your product with in-app guidance. Get a Userpilot demo and see how easy it is to get started.

What is the meaning of happy path?

The happy path is a common terminology in software development and user experience design. It literally refers to the “path” that the user takes to achieve the desired result without encountering any error.

Happy path scenarios are typically weaved around a specific feature or complementary features, with each step designed to make the customer more comfortable as they move towards their end goal.

Definition from the Cambridge dictionary

What is happy path user flow?

This is the visual representation of the path that users take to accomplish specific tasks within your product. It could be anything from signup, onboarding, checkout flows, and everything in between.

When creating happy path user flows, the goal is to make them as frictionless as possible. Most users are impatient and won’t think twice about your product if it proves too difficult to use.

Happy path vs. golden path in UX?

The happy path is more granular, and it refers to how the user engages with the interface. This is primarily used in software testing.

In comparison, the golden path is a term mostly used in UX. It refers to the path that the user takes to experience your product’s real value.

Happy path in UX

In comparison, the golden path is a term mostly used in UX. It refers to the path that the user takes to experience your product’s real value.

Every SaaS product has multiple steps the user can take to achieve the same thing, but the golden path is that one path that shortens the time to value, gets the user to their aha moment, and ultimately helps them fulfill their goal in as little time as possible.

Another way to see this difference is that the happy path is focused on one specific part of the product, while the golden path focuses on optimizing the entire product. Both are aimed at helping the user accomplish their end goal.

Consider Tinder’s Golden Path example below.

Tinder’s Golden Path UX

What is happy path testing?

Also called happy testing, this test is usually the first form of software testing performed on a SaaS product.

It involves using a flow of carefully scripted inputs to produce an expected output. The inputs tested are the same things the end-user is going to use. The whole point is to see that the application or procedure works as designed before rolling it out.

What is the opposite of happy path?

The opposite of the happy path is that path that the customer takes in their journey, and they end up with lots of friction which makes them start reconsidering your product.

There’s no universally agreed term for it.

Some people call it the sad path, others the bad path, exception path, or even unhappy path.

Someone asked this question on Twitter, and the replies were hilarious. Take a look.

What’s important to remember is that you don’t want your users ending up on that path.


The replies continue, with some people using terms like “we didn’t think it would do that path,” “paths of despair,” “road to nowhere,” and so on.


What does an unhappy path mean?

Although there’s no agreed name, “unhappy path” is the most used when referring to the opposite of the happy path. And it makes sense because it sounds more like the exact opposite of the term.

So, what’s the unhappy path?

As hinted in the previous section, this path simply refers to the exception path that doesn’t lead the user to their end goal.

Unlike the happy path, there are many ways things can go wrong in a product, so there’s no singular unhappy path. UX designers try as much as possible to avoid unhappy paths when designing products, but it’s sometimes inevitable.

So what do you do?

Your best bet is to anticipate errors and come up with possible solutions for when they happen.

What is the opposite of happy path testing?

This is called sad or unhappy path testing. It involves testing different ways the user can misuse the product flow.

Of course, it’s not possible to know every incorrect usage, but by considering the flow in question, it’s possible to come up with different ways things can go wrong in the product.

Common examples of the sad path include signup/sign-in errors when the user inputs the wrong log-in details or tries to signup without providing the necessary information.

Happy path sign-up error in Simplenote

Is there only one happy path?

Theoretically, there’s just one happy path. However, there may be many other paths the user can take to achieve valid results.

Critically considering all possible scenarios will help in designing product features with optimal UX. When multiple paths are identified, the best becomes the default as it will provide users with better product experiences.

Keeping users on the happy path with in-app guidance

Well executed, contextual in-app guidance will keep users on the happy path and help them make the most of your SaaS tool.

Here are two steps to getting this done:

  • First, you want to determine the golden path for your product.
  • Second, identify the best ways customers need to engage with your product to get value fast on the golden path.

These will require some thinking and user research, but the effort is worth it.

Getting users on the golden path

You identified your golden path in the step above; how do you ensure your users don’t have a hard time following it?

You can implement an in-app checklist with those actions to prompt users to engage with the product in a specific way that keeps them on the golden path.

Consider this checklist example from Kommunicate.

In-app checklist built with Userpilot

Avoid unhappy paths with interactive guidance

You might have tested different scenarios, but you can’t realistically exhaust the number of ways things can go wrong within your app.

Avoid unnecessary friction by using interactive walkthroughs set to be triggered when the user clicks on one task in your checklist.

The walkthrough will guide them step-by-step on performing a task, and that way, there will be little to no chance of getting the flow wrong.

Here’s how Kommunicate did it.

They linked their Bot customization task (seen in the checklist example above) with a step-by-step action-driven walkthrough to ensure their users stay on the happy path and complete the required task.

Build interactive walkthrough with Userpilot. Get a demo and get started right away.


Keeping your customers on the happy path will ensure they get value quickly from your product.

This will increase product stickiness and therefore reduce churn.

But the more customers go through unhappy paths within your product, the less likely they are to want to keep using your solution.

Do you want to get started keeping your customers on the happy path? Get a Userpilot demo to create in-app guidance to ensure customers don’t lose their way around your tool.

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