When it comes to the product design process, empathy is a common talking point. With good reason: One of the primary responsibilities of a UX designer is to understand their user' needs, desires, and motivations. The best UX designers use every tool possible to engage their users and empathize with them so they can understand their experience relative to the product they're building.
One of the best tools to achieve this is a journey map.
User journey maps are visual aids that help outline a user’s experience with a product, service, or feature. When they're thoughtfully created, they can provide incredible insight into how a user thinks and feels. In short, if you truly want to understand your users and enhance their experiences with your products, you need to use journey maps.
What is a user journey map?
A user journey map is a visual representation depicting the journey a user takes to achieve a goal. In its simplest form, it’s a visual narrative built on a timeline supported by the thoughts and feelings of the user.
Visually, a user journey map typically follows this pattern:
- At the top, there’s a specific persona or user along with the scenario and the goals the persona has for the scenario.
- The middle includes the phases the user goes through in the scenario and their resulting thoughts and feelings.
- And at the bottom are the insights and opportunities gleaned from the user journey map.
A user journey map is a visual representation depicting the journey a user takes to achieve a goal.
The process of user journey mapping gives product teams the opportunity to examine every step a user takes through a given experience. It provides insights into what works and doesn't work from the user's perspective. It's one of the best tools available for visualizing a user experience and uncovering pain points and moments of pleasure.
It’s worth mentioning that a customer journey map is more or less the same thing as a user journey map. Both are the practice of understanding a user’s journey through visualization. Some argue that a customer journey map is a misnomer because, depending on your business model, your users aren’t necessarily customers.
Whatever you prefer to call it, the core practice is the same, and journey maps are key to creating excellent user experiences. When you understand the journey your users take, you can better your users' experiences from end to end.
The benefits of user journey mapping
Looking at the big picture, building user journey maps creates models for product teams to rally around, which sparks dialogue and leads to a common understanding. Rather than individual departments defining success by their own metrics, the entire design team stands on common ground and can look at success from the perspective of the user and their experiences.
Whether it’s a product or service team, this kind of shared vision is crucial. Without tearing down the silos, there’d never be any consensus on how to improve the user’s experience.
Looking closer at the details, user journey maps provide various qualitative benefits, such as:
- Increasing empathy for the user across teams
- Understanding differences between users as they move through their journeys
- Validating the user’s expectations measures against their actual experiences
- Optimizing individual stages in the user journey
But the biggest benefit of user journey mapping?
You understand your users more deeply. When you put their experiences under the microscope and think about their pain points, problems, delights, and joys, you know and understand how to make their experiences better and more personalized. And that means a better product.
Art by tatooine_girl
Types of user journey maps
At their core, journey maps are about understanding the user experience. But because every business is different, the approach each one takes to create its maps varies. These variations depend on what they’re hoping to understand about their users and those users’ experiences as well as business goals.
Despite the differences in journey maps from team to team and business to business, you can classify most of them into a few different categories.
👤 Current state journey maps
When people familiar with UX think of journey maps, they probably think of current state maps. The most common kind of map, they’re all about the experience a user has in the present. They’re the current state of a product or service that’s being examined. Put simply, they’re what users think and feel when they experience something in the here and now.
Current state maps are best for teams looking to improve on established experiences. They examine existing pain points and concerns your users have with your products and services, so they’re perfect for identifying and understanding user pain points.
🚶♂️Day in the life journey maps
A day in the life map also focuses on existing experiences your users have, but it takes a more holistic approach. These maps consider the experiences a user has throughout their day — not just with your brand’s offerings but with other products, services, and experiences in their daily life.
⏩ Future state journey maps
Future state maps are concerned with how users will think and feel about a future experience. Their purpose is more about creating future experiences for the user and understanding how they’ll think and feel about those experiences. Compared to other maps, they’re more creative and innovative rather than data-driven, and they’re focused more on a user’s hopes and desires.
📘 Blueprint journey maps
Blueprint maps, sometimes called service blueprints, are more abstract journey maps. They start with simplified versions of other maps and then build on them with systems, policies, processes, and other technologies that impact the experience of the user.
Most of the time, they’re built on either current state or future state maps. When built using current state maps, they can provide insights into the root causes of user pain points and concerns. With future maps, they can help you understand what kind of infrastructure of people and technology you’ll need to facilitate the goal experience.
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How to create a user journey map from scratch
Building a user journey map is different for every team and every situation, so there aren't any one-size-fits-all templates. But there are some elements common to all journey maps that get the ball rolling when you set out to build your own.
The first step is defining what you’re mapping. In other words, whose journey you’re looking at, what that journey is and what the user is hoping to achieve. This is the most crucial part of any map, and it sets the stage for everything else, so take your time. Make sure everyone involved is clear on the basics before progressing into broader and deeper details.
Next, you’ll need to figure out the previously mentioned common elements:
- User persona: Who’s the focus of this journey map? A journey map should focus on just one perspective
- Scenario: What’s the scenario you’re looking at? Describe in detail the situation the user is experiencing
- Goals and Expectations: What are the user’s goals and expectations? Describe their needs and motivations
✔️ Define the stages
You'll need to start off by defining each stage of the journey you’ll map. A good way to go about this is to flesh out the first and last stage of the experience and then start filling in the gaps.
Be sure each stage you add is meaningful. While details are good in journey maps, you don’t want to bog it down with moments that don’t add to your overall understanding of the user’s experience.
You’ll also want to think about the timescale. This largely depends on the experience you're mapping. Is it an experience that happens over the course of a few minutes or does it span months? The bottom line is that you need to know where the experience begins and ends
✔️ Define the actions
Building off of each stage, you can start defining the actions your user takes during each one. Again, focus on meaningful actions. Hone in on the core steps your users take to progress from stage to stage.
✔️ Consider all touchpoints
Be sure to take note of every interaction the user has during their journey, including any people, products, services or tools they encounter or use. This is important for understanding the user’s mental state as well as identifying opportunities for improving the experience with supplemental or new offerings.
You’ll also want to take note of the channels your users engage on. You can refer back to the user persona for insights on this. For example, if your typical user usually interacts with your brand through email, it’s smart to include that in the actions they take. The same goes for any other channel they interface with your business on.
✔️ Empathize and categorize
Next, hop into your user’s shoes and ask yourself what they’re thinking and feeling as they take action. You can uncover insights into how your users react during each stage of their experience by creating an empathy map.
At this point, you can begin categorizing different concepts, feelings, and ideas. As you build categories and organize your findings, brainstorm additional ideas and add to them. Keep in mind that you can also pull ideas out that don’t seem relevant. It needn’t be perfect, but the focus is important.
✔️ Create the map
Journey maps are definitely creative documents. Some are straightforward while others are more polished. If you don’t know where to start design-wise, the Interaction Design Foundation has some free templates to get you moving.
Typically though, a journey map has three areas:
- The top section of the map describes the persona and the experience the map focuses on.
- The middle area covers the actions and corresponding thoughts and feelings relevant to each stage of the experience.
- The bottom is reserved for recording insights for each stage of the journey and any other relevant ideas or discoveries
Art by Yev Ledenov
Tips for getting started with user journey maps
With the fundamental elements in place, you can get creative with your journey maps. But there are some best practices you’ll want to keep in mind.
1. Build your maps with real data
While empathy is an important skill in UX, you should never assume you know exactly what your users are thinking and feeling. This is especially true for journey maps. Building them on incorrect assumptions can invalidate the entire map.
Because journey maps are focused on the experiences of your users, particularly their thoughts and feelings as they progress through different interactions, you should be incorporating real data. User and market research such as surveys, user interviews, and user testing should be the basis for much of the data you build your maps on.
2. Don’t map your marketing funnel
Some businesses approach journey maps by using their marketing funnel as a reference point. It’s understandable: Marketing funnels have some elements in common with journey maps. They’re both focused on understanding your users at a deep level. They’re also both broken down into stages in the timeline, in which a user progresses toward a clear goal.
But they aren’t the same thing.
While your marketing funnel might be a good addition to a journey map, the latter is much more complex. And rather than focusing on a business objective, journey maps are focused on the user’s experience and improving that experience. They’re certainly related, but journey mapping should go far beyond any marketing considerations.
3. Let your journey maps grow
A good UX journey map has everything we covered so far. But a truly great one grows and evolves over time based on data.
Journey maps aren’t one-and-done documents. When you get new information about your customers, you integrate it into your existing maps. It might be information about their needs, goals, behavior, or satisfaction. And of course, as your maps inform business decisions, you need to integrate any changes you make to the experience on your side. The user journey is always evolving, and your user journey maps should too.
The user journey is always evolving, and your user journey maps should too.
Customer journey map examples
Because journey maps are a visual tool, seeing them in action helps cement how to make them and also just how beneficial they are. Here are three great examples of them in action.
Spotify’s sharing feature journey map
Spotify didn’t become one of the biggest music and podcast services in the world by making whimsical decisions. When they wanted to know where a new music-sharing feature fit best in the user experience, they hired a marketing firm to create a customer journey map to figure it out.
This journey map is an excellent example of how the user’s experience is broken down and moves through stages. It starts with the user opening the app on their device and moves all the way to each possible endpoint of a sharing interaction. It shows what the user does, what they’re thinking, and how they’re reacting at every age.
Using this map, Spotify was able to address the concerns over its sharing experience and make it much more likely that users would share music with people.
Amazon's customer journey map
As the biggest e-commerce site on the planet, Amazon needs no introduction. The company has developed countless solutions across dozens of products to move users through their journey. As you might imagine, this particular version of their customer journey map is incredibly complex.
Take note of Amazon’s use of metrics and KPIs on its map. This is an indicator that their map isn’t a rigid document. It’s one that grows and evolves as they get new information. It’s a good example to look at to see how these kinds of ongoing performance indicators can impact the changes your journey maps take on.
Atlassian's user journey map
Atlassian builds tools used by teams all over the world. Its portfolio includes the wildly popular Trello and Jira, so it knows a thing or two about building great digital products.
Its user journey map visualizes the experience a user has once they’ve posted a job on the site. After posting, someone from sales contacts them. The user then has multiple touchpoints with the brand, including registering, online training, and workshops. It’s an excellent example that shows the dangers and opportunities for each touchpoint of the experience.
Design better products with user journey maps
Customer journey maps are proven visual tools that provide teams with incredible insights into the minds of their users as they interact with their offerings. For UX designers and user researchers, they’re incredibly powerful tools for stepping into the user’s shoes and understanding their pain points, concerns, needs, and desires. This is their superpower: The ability to understand their users deeply and help create experiences that empower them.
Even better, journey maps serve as easily understandable visual tools for all stakeholders to see and contribute to helping improve the customer experience. This makes them invaluable tools, not just for product teams but for the entire organization!
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