Journey Maps: What are they and why are they useful?

Mia E Lee
Mia Ellis-Lee
Design & Frontend Development
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Journey mapping is a UI/UX practice intended to create a document that outlines a user’s interaction with a digital product. The journey map charts out the user’s interaction over time, showing changes in how they might interact, react, feel, or act over time. 

One important thing to note is that journey maps are not user flows. A user flow shows the steps necessary to complete one task or goal within a product or service (for instance, the steps necessary to purchase a product on an online store). But a journey map tells a more holistic story about the user by describing how they came across the product, how they found that they needed the product in question, their emotional state at these points, or even interaction with the company after they’ve finished the use of the relevant product.

If you’ve read our previous blog post about personas, you’re in luck! Journey mapping works very well in conjunction with personas (but still can be effective tools on their own). You can use a generic user subset (for example, if we were developing a website for a school, we might consider teachers or parents as a user subset) but the specificity of personas can help to refine journey maps and illuminate points that might otherwise be missed by creating a generic journey map.

Typically, journey maps include information such as tasks (what the user is trying to accomplish), questions (what the user wants to know), touchpoints (how the user is interacting with the organization at large - not just when they use the digital product in question), emotions (how the user is feeling), and channels (where each interaction takes place). This information is structured through a timeline - either using units of time or phases that can logically be segmented (for example, “discovery” or “evaluation”).

Let’s take a deeper dive…

Now that you’ve got a better sense of what a journey map is all about, let’s put it into practice by taking a look at an example journey map. Download our example journey map. In our hypothetical scenario, we are developing a website for Green Power Corp (GPC). GPC is a publicly-traded utility company, with local subsidiaries across the country. GPC is focused on providing customers with reliable, clean energy while rewarding shareholders with an environmentally sustainable, socially positive, and profitable investment opportunity.

Our persona, Charles Wong, is an institutional investor - he represents a subset of users who would be interested in GPC for the purposes of his own work in the investment field.

Right off the bat, you can see how the rows in the journey map change over time. The “Channel” row is a great example of how this works. When Charles is initially at the stage of awareness, he likely first learns about GPC through face-to-face interaction/by word of mouth. Next, as he does his initial discovery of GPC - it is a reasonable assumption to make that Charles would search them on the web. The journey map provides an easy way to grasp how Charles’ interaction changes over time.

Some particularly useful rows to include in journey maps are Actions, Ideas/Opportunities and Problems. Ideas/Opportunities and Problems are where we’re most directly describing the challenges or opportunities that will inform the UI/UX. These two rows are informed by the Actions row, where we’re describing in plain language what Charles is likely to be doing. For example, in the stage of “Evaluate”, Charles is likely looking at manager profiles on the website to validate GPC. Knowing that might point is towards paying special attention to the profiles or showcasing them in some unique way.

The “Experience” row is also typically included in journey maps because of the straightforward and powerful way of describing what the user might be feeling. Everybody can understand emotions like “Angry”, “Joyful”, or “Impatient”. Including that in the journey map helps us to really think about the user experience from an emotional perspective, something that can often be lost when creating technical products.

Much like personas, the assumptions that we’re making with regards to Charles’ journey maps should be informed by research where possible. However, even without prior research, journey maps can illuminate challenges or aspects of the product’s UI/UX that should be considered.

Next Steps

Our example journey map is not prescriptive - add any fields you think might be useful or remove any fields that you think may not be relevant. A good journey map creation tool (i.e. UXPressia) will give you the ability to add and remove fields and customize your journey map. 

Now that you have a handle on journey maps, try creating your own journey map! Or, take a refresher and read up on personas!

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