An Introduction to User Journey Maps

This tutorial introduces user journey maps: what they are, and what they’re useful for. It’s the first in a series of five tutorials that cover all the ins and outs of user journey maps, from the different types of journey map and how to use them, how to conduct user research for mapping, how to run mapping workshops, and how to use your maps effectively.

Imagine you want to buy a gift for your friend online. You might start by looking for some inspiration. What does this person like? You might use search engines, but maybe also inspiration boards. Or maybe some of those “top ten gifts for X” articles that are popular, especially around Xmas. You finally arrive on a website that offers the kind of things that inspire you. You go through categories, maybe use the search. You find the right gift, you go through the checkout process. The experience was good and quite simple. You buy it. Then you wait. And it never arrives. After a couple of days you try to contact the shop. It takes them more than a few days to answer. Eventually, after a lot of back and forth with them by email and over the phone, they find out what was going wrong. They agree to send you another one. But sadly, it doesn’t arrive on time for the birthday. You might have had a decent — maybe even good — experience on the website. But how about the overall experience?

When building websites and services, designers need to understand that whole experience. And to do that, we have one very powerful tool: user journey maps. A user journey map is a visual document that will show the whole experience of a user in a chronological way. It documents user goals, phases in the journey, tasks, pain points, sometimes feelings. It helps teams build products by showing a global view. This brings stakeholders and teams together on the same page. It helps brainstorm opportunities to improve the product and solve those pain points. And it lists touch points and channels, which helps break down different gaps you might have in your organization. In my example here, maybe there were organizational issues between the team building the site and the support team, which led to the support being late.

Let’s start our journey of discovering user journey maps with a big overview. In this first part, we’ll focus on what user journeys are and what to include in them. We’ll see an example of how a user journey map was used on one of my previous projects. Finally, we’ll see some of the benefits of such a tool, but also things you need to be careful about.

What Is a User Journey Map?

A user journey map helps document and visualize the step-by-step experience someone has with a product or service, from the beginning to the end. It lists the different actions users take to accomplish their goal.

Note: you may also come across user journey maps described by other names, such as “experience maps” or “user experience maps”.

Those actions are arranged in chronological order, often presented as a timeline. The beginning of the journey is on the left, and the end on the right, with all the steps in between. It helps designers (and stakeholders) get a global overview of the whole journey.

The following image shows an example of the Miro customer journey map template.

To build a user journey map, you need data. So you’ll start by conducting user research: interviews, observation, task analysis, and so on. You want to identify and understand those actions in a chronological way. The map is then built as a document that will synthesize this research.

The image below shows an eExample of the Wikipedia Experience Translator journey.

This tool comes from the field of marketing, where you might hear it called a “customer journey map” or sometimes “customer map”. The concept is close: map the user customer experience in a chronological way.

What to Include in a User Journey Map

You might have noticed that the maps above are different. There’s no “one size fits all” rule for building a journey map. It depends on your product or service, the experience, and what you discover during research. Here a few things that are usually part of the map:

Scope: what is the map about, and how big? Do we list the whole experience, or a small part of it?
User goal: what is the user trying to accomplish?
Journey phases: what are the big steps a user is going through to pursue this goal? Even if your core experience is an app or website, interactions before and after this can be interesting to capture.
User actions or tasks: for each step or phase, what do the users need to do?
Pain points: what annoys the user here? Are there any frictions?
Opportunities: how might we improve this?

We’ll go into more details for each of those points in Part 3 of this series.

Depending on what you discover during your research, you might find any of the following:

Emotions: how does the user feel during this phase?
Triggers: what pushes users to take that decision at that specific step?
Obstacles or barriers: what prevents the user from going to the next step?
Knowledge gap: what kind of information is required to complete this step? What does the person need to know?
Touchpoints and channels: is the user interacting with the product on their phone? With customer support? What channel in the company is responsible for this part?
Effort: how hard (or easy) is it to do business with you?

If you want to go further, the Nielsen Norman Group has a “Journey Mapping 101” article with more information on the components.

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An Introduction to User Journey Maps
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