Experience mapping – taking user journeys to the next level

In my last post I introduced user journeys and discussed how useful they were for understanding both current and proposed routes for a user through a website or app. But while user journeys are great for building that initial understanding, as we get deeper into the project we want to flesh out those user journeys with more detail and insight, by turning them into full-blown experience maps.

What is an experience map?

User journeys are fairly basic documents – often a simple diagram with annotations – which arise from early conversations around the flow of users through a product/service. As those conversations develop, taking into account the needs and pain points of users, and how interacting with the product might make them feel at key stages, we need a more sophisticated way of recording this information.

An experience map is just that – a structured representation of a user journey which takes into account the user’s emotional state at each point where they interact with the product. It is generated using the information from user and stakeholder interviews, analytics, user testing sessions and other user research and insight. It helps the team building the product understand where they need to pay more attention to user needs, goals and potential frustrations.

What does an experience map include?

Experience maps vary widely in terms of content, layout and complexity. In their most basic form, good experience maps will describe the user journey and the user’s feelings at each step.

Here’s an example of an experience map we created for the ticket purchasing journey on a musician’s website:

Experience map website journey

As you can see, this is a timeline-style map which contains only a representation of the various stages of the journey, the mental state of the user (ranging from frustrated to happy) and some annotations which expand on the user’s needs/frustrations/expectations at each stage.

Moving towards greater complexity, here’s an experience map that we created for an existing journey towards becoming a regular donor to a large charity:

Experience map for NGO

This experience map, created for a particular persona (The Wealthy Well-wisher), shows not only the steps through the journey but also:

  • Trigger – what has prompted the user to begin the journey?
  • Final goal – what is the ultimate state in which we want to leave the user?
  • Insights – how is the journey currently working?
  • Recommendations – how could the journey be made better?
  • Emotion – how does the user feel at each stage of the journey?

Both of the above are timeline-style experience maps (i.e. they show the user journey as a linear progression) but there are other ways of representing more complex user journeys, for example this oft-cited one made by Lego:

Lego wheel experience map

It’s also possible to incorporate more than one user journey in an experience map, or experiences which happen across multiple-channels, as in this example:

multi-channel experience map

How would you use an experience map?

Sometimes the experience map is a deliverable – for example when you’ve been brought in to analyse and make recommendations for improving existing user journey(s). In that instance you’ll want to make the experience map as clear and self-explanatory as possible, perhaps incorporating a short description of the relevant persona.

Often though, an experience map is a working document which is used to record the approach of the team building the product, and which develops as the team develops its understanding of the users, their needs and potential pain-points. In this case, the experience map is more likely to have grown organically out of the relevant user journey and will be displayed somewhere where all members of the team can see it.

These kinds of experience maps don’t need to be as polished, as long as everyone who needs to refer to them can easily make sense of them.


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