User Experience Journey Map: Why it's the lifeblood of successful products and services?

Jun 22, 2022Mikenzi Ross

We've talked about design systems, feature prioritization frameworks, and various types of designers. Now it's time to dig deep into another invaluable element of a successful product.

The User Experience Journey Map.

When it comes to understanding your users and ensuring all UX elements are relevant and effective, UX maps are like the cheat sheet of the UX world.

It's kinda like if a user persona got bitten by a radioactive, highly-intuitive polar bear—and got superpowers!

(That's always what happens when radioactive animals are involved, right?)

Anyway, all jokes aside...

User Experience Journey Maps are one of the most critical steps in a design process and warrant the utmost care if it's to work as intended.

This article shares actionable steps to help you jumpstart your UX journey map today—getting you one BIG step closer to a highly-successful product that has users and stakeholders celebrating.

What is a User Journey Map?

It goes by many names: UX journey map, customer journey map, user experience map—but at the end of the day, it's basically all the same. All that matters is creating a highly-detailed map that depicts the user's journey from start to finish.

A visual representation of a basic user experience journey map. It displays 5 columns. The left-most column lists the words: motivation, goal, interaction, opportunities. The next four columns headers read: awareness, consideration, decision, retention. Color scheme is orange, black, and white

Once you've done adequate research into the user's unique needs, you can map out their journey using the product you're creating/created—as well as how you want them to use it.

What questions do User Experience Maps answer?

  • What does the user go through using your process (how do you want them to engage vs. how they actually engage)?
  • What are the user's highly-specific needs that your product should provide?
  • What obstacles (pain points) are users facing, and how can your product solve them?

Solid user experience journey maps understand how—and are willing to—ask the right questions. The best UX maps acquire data directly from the source (the user), and they never guess.

Why user experience journey maps matter

Aside from ensuring all design effort focuses on the user, UX maps help you communicate and describe the process to other designers, leaders, and stakeholders.

User Experience Journey Maps can be as simple as sticky notes on a whiteboard—or as complex as creating specific user personas and building their entire experience in Excel, Miro, etc.

How to create a user experience journey map

This is one area of UX where our usual motto of "simple is always best" does not apply. Instead, when developing a user experience map that gets results, no stone is left unturned—and no sticky note discarded.

Anything and everything related to understanding the user is worth documenting. And the further you travel down developing the user journey, the more paths (information) you'll find—and that's like a secret treasure trove.

(yes, we consider user data to be as cool as secret pirate treasure—no, we don't think we're lame.)

Step 1: Get into the user's head

A user experience journey map (AKA: UX map, customer experience map, etc.) is all about getting to know the user at the most intimate level. This process requires time, commitment, and a willingness to ask questions.

Without in-depth research, you cannot create an effective UX map—attempting to do so defeats the whole purpose, and cutting this corner will backfire.

To get started, collect preliminary data regarding the overall industry and individual—this allows you to get to know their world and further define a list of practical questions to ask.

  • Absorb relevant media (books, content, social media groups, etc.)
  • Learn the terms and language they use
  • Define an overall understanding of their problem and needs

Step 2: Decide on a format

Figure out how you want to lay out your journey map, but don't overthink this. A user experience map can go through many different phases and forms. So get a whiteboard and sticky notes, and start defining swim lanes amongst your team.

Tools like Miro are excellent for laying out the UX journey because you can quickly and easily expand, add, and organize as your user experience journey map grows. It also makes sharing and reviewing your UX map with others much easier.

Here's that visual representation of a basic UX map one more time as a refresher:

A visual representation of a basic user experience journey map. It displays 5 columns. The left-most column lists the words: motivation, goal, interaction, opportunities. The next four columns headers read: awareness, consideration, decision, retention. Color scheme is orange, black, and white

Step 3: Ask the right high-level questions

Once you've conducted your preliminary industry research, go directly to the source and ask the high-level questions you've compiled. This stage allows you to fill in gaps and get into the nitty-gritty details of your product's purpose—this is where you'll find those precious nuggets of insight that ensures your user experience tailors precisely to what the customer needs.

Being that every product serves a unique purpose, the list of questions your team develops will vary. However, if you do your due diligence in data collection, those 'high ROI' questions will reveal themselves.

Bonus Step: Avoid common user experience journey map mistakes

Now that we've covered the basics of customer journey maps, let's discuss three UX mapping mistakes to avoid. It's way easier to make these errors than one might think—especially if you're new to user mapping.

Creating UX maps from the wrong perspective

As we said earlier, generalization and guessing are the user map's greatest enemies. Sometimes brands accidentally create user experiences from their perspective (using their industry jargon and priorities, for example) instead of the end-user. Ensure every journey step stems from the user's perspective.

Forgetting to start the journey map before the user faces the product

The customer journey begins well before they engage with your product. If you only worry about mapping the experience once the user is already interacting with your app/website/business, you're missing out on several essential steps in a design process. The customer's experience finding your product is just as necessary as how they navigate it.

Mapping an experience on only one platform/device

This may not apply to all products, but if your product has desktop and mobile versions, you must create user experiences journey maps for both. After all, the desktop user journey is entirely different from a mobile user's experience.

The incredibly talented and insightful vaexperience created an in-depth but digestible mini-series: Getting Started with Experience and UX Journey Mapping, P1. It's a great watch, and we highly recommend it if your appetite for journey mapping isn't sated yet!

Bon voyage—good luck on your journey! (but you know by now luck has nothing to do with it, right?)

As you can see, user experience maps are invaluable to a successful product. Admittedly, they seem intimidating at first, but once you find a format that works and focus on stepping into the user's shoes, the process will evolve naturally.

Yes, it will require time.

And yes, if you're a startup, we know you're often short on that resource.

However, this preliminary effort expedites every following stage of development by ensuring everyone is on the same page, and your customers are central to every design decision.

And if your team is busy focusing on other essential tasks and projects, The Design Project offers a free 7-day free trial. We know exactly how to map an in-depth and actionable user experience journey, ensuring your product is as strong as possible.

Click here for a free trial to see for yourself.

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Mikenzi Ross
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