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A shared understanding

At the start of any new project here at Box UK it’s the job of our User Experience consultants and Business Analysts to help everybody involved in the project reach a shared understanding as quickly as possible. There are naturally numerous ways to capture and document the requirements for a new website or mobile application, but one technique we often use is ‘user journey mapping’.

What is user journey mapping?

  • ‘User’; because in the spirit of User Centred Design we try to frame as much of the project as we can through the needs of the end-user.
  • ‘Journey’; because we’re trying to capture the start and finish of a certain task or action and all the steps in between.
  • ‘Mapping’; because we’re all visual people, and it’s much easier to understand a logical, well laid-out diagram than verbose descriptions.

When do we use them?

Personally I like to use them in conjunction with user stories (a statement that captures the ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘why’ of a particular feature), or to break-out a particular element of a sitemap when discussing requirements with clients.

For instance, on a recent project with a client who relies on membership for their revenue stream, one user story for their new site was:

“As a non-member, I want to apply online for membership so that I don’t have to complete a paper-based application”

Taken at face value this is doesn’t seem too complex a requirement, but thanks to the user research and business analysis I’d carried out with users, client stakeholders and other 3rd parties, I knew that this was just the tip of the requirement. I also needed to take into account:

  • Different levels of membership dependent on age, region etc.
  • Different payment types available
  • Free 12-month entry to a topic group on joining
  • Automatic allocation to a regional group on joining
  • Alerting group webmasters of new member in their group
  • Adding a new member to the CMS database
  • Adding a new member record to the client CRM
  • Managing manual client validation of new member application
  • Sending user membership details (on & offline)What happens when the new member logs into site for 1st time

Suffice to say, the user story is actually pretty epic and has many, many sub-stories to consider. Now, I could have broken this user story down into further stories, but for the sake of getting my own head around the requirements, and reaching a shared understanding with the client quicker, I decided to turn this user story into a user journey map:

User Journey Mapping

Benefits of user journey mapping

As can be seen in the example above, the user journey map helps to identify a whole host of different things that we as designers and developers need to be aware of, as well as the client. This includes:

  • The start and finish of the user journey – when can we determine that the user has completed this journey?
  • The likely number of pages that will need to be designed to successfully guide the user through this journey.
  • Integration with systems external to the one we are building.
  • Email messaging that will need to be triggered by the system at different points in the journey.
  • Views of the journey as seen by other user types (ie. webmaster/ admin level reporting)
  • Offline activities that will be triggered by online events.
  • Potential bottle-necks in the system that require manual intervention.
  • Business-logic and rules that might not be exposed at a user interface level.

They are a very flexible tool to use, as they can also be augmented with likely timescales (if a journey is likely to take weeks or even months, or if the journey is time-critical) and with interactions within the physical world (ie. accessing content across multiple devices). When printed out and stuck up on the walls in a meeting, they can be scribbled on and plastered in post-it notes, and serve as a great discussion point for our clients and internal team.

Conclusion

Naturally, user journey mapping works best if it’s based on actual user research, but as with the example above, sometime the user interaction is only half the story. There are often a whole host of business rules, 3rd party systems and non-customer users that are vital to the completion of the end-user’s journey. As such, mapping these in an at-a-glance picture can be a vital exercise.   

For all these reasons, I find user journey mapping a very powerful, easy to understand, and ultimately enjoyable way to capture and share ideas with clients.

To find out more about our UX process at Box UK, see our User Experience Consultancy page or read some more of our blog posts. We’d also love to hear your opinions on user stories: please use the comments box below to tell us about your experiences.

About the author

Chris Bangs

Chris Bangs

Chris specialises in User Experience (UX) design via HTML prototyping, understanding user journeys, designing information architectures, and running usability testing. Since joining Box UK he’s worked on projects for the likes of the Wellcome Trust, IET and Cardiff University amongst others.

Comments

Per Axbom

Nov 26th, 2012

Albeit a useful tool, I don’t think I would call this a customer journey map. How does the user find the service, what are the highs and lows of the experience, etc? Also it is not based on user research. This, rather, is something I would call a use case diagram. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Use_case_diagram Here’s a good explanation of a customer journey map: http://www.uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2011/09/the-value-of-customer-journey-maps-a-ux-designers-personal-journey.php

Chris Bangs

Nov 27th, 2012

Hi Per, We have other examples of user journey mapping which capture users’ motivations and behaviours based on user research, but I take on board your point about the similarity to use cases in the example shown above. I guess I’m wary of traditional UML-style use cases as I find clients don’t always warm to them, and I find capturing timings and platforms more difficult visually. As such, I’m not keen to call them ‘use cases’ and rely on ‘user journey mapping’ to help client’s understand their purpose. Maybe a better term would be ‘user story mapping’ if we’re getting into semantics (given that we use them to document epic user stories). Personally I think the example on UX matters is more around the overarching customer experience and emotion, rather than the interactions which form a user journey, which isn’t what I was trying to capture. Thanks for the feedback; it’s always good to hear from other UX professionals.

Jan 1st, 0001

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