Why All UX Designers Should Be Creating User Journeys, And Here’s How to Make One
by Nick Babich
Posted on 10-05-2017
Good design is all about the user. If designers truly want to create the best products, it’s important for them to see the product from the user’s perspective. That’s where a tool called a user journey comes in. It’s a powerful combination of storytelling and visualization that helps designers identify opportunities to create new and improved experiences for their users. In this article, I’ll introduce a concept of user journey along with some tips and specific examples.
What Is A User Journey?
A user journey is a visualization of the process that a person goes through in order to accomplish a goal. Typically, it’s presented as a series of steps in which a person interacts with a product. As opposed to the customer journey, which analyzes the steps before and after using the product, user journey only examines what happens inside the app/website. In context of e-commerce website, for example. user journey can consist of a number of pages and decision points that carry the user from one step to another in attempt to purchase a product.
What’s Required to Create A User Journey?
The following elements are required to create a user journey:
- Persona: User journeys are tied back to personas. To create a realistic user journey, it is important to first identify the users and create personas for them. When creating a user journey, it’s recommended to use one persona per journey in order to provide a strong, clear narrative.
- Goal and Scenario: The exact goal to which the given journey belongs. The scenario presents a situation in which the persona tries to accomplish something. User journey is best for scenarios that describe a sequence of events, like purchasing something.
- Context: A context is defined by a set of facts that surround a scenario, like the physical environment in which the experience is taking place. Where is the user? What is around them? Are there any other factors which may distract them?
What Does A User Journey Look Like?
A user journey can take a wide variety of forms depending on the context and your business goals. In its most basic form, a user journey is presented as a series of user steps and actions following a timeline skeleton. This kind of layout makes it easier for all team members to understand and follow the narrative. A simple user journey only reflects one possible path during one scenario. A complex user journey can encompass experiences occurring during different times and scenarios.
While user journey maps can (and should) take a wide variety of forms, certain elements are generally included:
- A title summarizing the journey (e.g. ‘Purchasing an electronic device in the e-commerce store’)
- A picture of the persona the journey relates to.
- A series of steps. Everything real-world users would do as a separate activity counts as a step. Steps should provide a sense of progression (each step should enable the persona to get to the next one).
- An illustration of what’s happening in the step. This illustration includes touchpoints (times when a persona in the journey actually interacts with a product) and channels (methods of communication, such as the website or mobile app). For example, for the touchpoint ‘pay for product,’ the channels associated with this touchpoint could be ‘pay online’ or ‘pay in person.’
- The persona’s emotional state at each step. A user journey is the most important tool for designing emotions; at the heart of a user journey is what the user is doing, thinking, and feeling during each step. Are users engaged, frustrated, or confused? Emotional experiences can be supplemented with quotes from your research.
How Does A User Journey Fit Into The UX Design Process?
User journeys are typically created at the beginning of a project — during the product analysis phase, after personas are defined. Along with personas they can be one of the key design deliverables from this phase.
A user journey can be used to demonstrate either current or future user behavior:
- When a user journey is used to show the current user behavior (the way users currently interact with the product) it should provide a clear view of how easy or difficult it is for a typical user to reach their goal.
- When a user journey demonstrates the future state of the product (a ‘to-be’ experience), it should highlight any changes to pain points that a future solution will solve.
Why Should Designers Use a User Journey?
A user journey is used for understanding and addressing user needs and pain points. The entire point of the user journey is to understand user behavior, uncover gaps in the user experience, and then take action to optimize the experience.
There are many other benefits for designers when they invest time in user journeys. Properly-created user journeys can help designers better:
- Communicate design decisions to stakeholders: As a document, a user journey can be used to clearly explain the strengths and weaknesses of the product in terms of UX.
- Prioritize features: User journeys helps identify possible functionality at a high level. By understanding the key user’s tasks, it’s possible to define functional requirements that will help enable those tasks. This helps product teams scope out pieces of functionality in more detail and speed up the planning of a new version of the product.
On a company level, user journeys can:
- Shift a company’s view: Since user journeys are shorthand for the overall user experience, it’s possible to leverage them as a supporting component of an experience strategy. Creating a user journey could be the first step in building a solid plan of action to invest in UX and create one shared organization-wide vision.
- Promote collaboration between different departments: Because a user journey creates a vision of the entire user journey, it becomes a tool for creating cross-departmental conversation and collaboration. User journeys can engage stakeholders from across departments and spur collaborative conversation.
8 Tips for Creating and Using A User Journey
Before Creating A User Journey
1. A User Journey Should Have A Business Goal behind It
Each user journey should always be created to support a known business goal. A user journey that doesn’t align with a business goal won’t result in applicable insight. That’s why identification of the business goal that the user journey will support should be the first step in the process.
2. A User Journey Should Be Based on User Research
The effectiveness and importance of a user journey depends heavily on the quality of insights it provides. User journeys should be built from both qualitative and quantitative findings. The process of creating a user journey has to begin with getting to know users. If designers don’t have enough information to create a good user journey, they should conduct additional journey-based research (such as ethnographic research) to gain insights into the user experience.
When Creating A User Journey
3. Don’t Jump Straight to Visualization
The temptation to create an aesthetic graphic can lead to beautiful yet flawed user journeys. It’s recommended to start with sticky notes on a wall or visualize the path with a simple spreadsheet. It’s important to experiment and not accept the first idea as the best.
4. Don’t Make It Too Complex
While designing user journey it’s easy to get caught up in the multiple routes a user might take. Unfortunately, this often leads to a busy user journey. It’s recommended to start with a simple, linear journey (an ideal way to get the users to the given goal). Also, it’s better to avoid focusing too hard on a series of pages users go through. Instead, review what the users usually do and in what order.
5. More Ideas Lead to Better Design
It’s essential to involve all team members in the process of creating a user journey. The activity of creating a user journey (not the output itself) is the most valuable part of the process, and it’s helpful to have stakeholder participants from many areas of the organization involved in this activity. Mixing people who otherwise never communicate with each other can be extremely valuable, especially in large organizations.
Use Your User Journey
6. Assign Ownership
All too often, areas of negative friction in user journeys exist simply because no internal team or person is responsible for this area. Without ownership, no one has the responsibility or empowerment to change anything. That’s why it’s important to assign ownership for different parts of the journey map (e.g. key touchpoints) to internal departments or directly to responsible individuals.
7. Socialize Stakeholders
Getting stakeholders comfortable with user journeys is critical in moving your organization toward action. Reference your user journey during meetings and conversations to promote a narrative that others believe in and begin to use on a regular basis.
8. Maintain Journeys Over Time
Set a time each quarter or year to evaluate how your current user experience matches your documented user journeys. Consider when you may need to update the journey (such as after a major product release when the behavior of a user may change).
User journeys create a holistic view of user experience and this makes them an essential component in the process of designing a new product or improving the design of an existing one. By leveraging user journeys as a supporting component of an experience strategy it’s possible to keep users at the heart of all design decisions.
Topics: Creative Inspiration & Trends, Design