User Mapping the User Experience

Design & Content Conference 2016

Jin Su Park
7 min readAug 12, 2016


On the first day of the Design & Content conference I attended Donna Lichaw’s storymapping workshop where we learned simple and practical ways of representing a customer journey through the means of storymapping. Out of the 4, I chose to attend Donna’s workshop because I was particularly interested in offering our own customers an even more simple and frictionless security experience, therefore, uncovering their true purpose and identifying gaps within our customers’ journey was an important first step.

Donna Lichaw is a thought leader in storytelling and customer engagement strategies and has worked with brands such as Casio, Bloomber, Citi, Sony Pictures, and New York. She is the author of The User’s Journey: Storymapping Products that People Love and I highly recommend checking it out!

What does a great user experience have in common with a great story? Everything.” — Donna Lichaw

There are many different ways of representing a customer journey map, and whilst there is no right or wrong way, what I particularly liked about Donna’s technique was it’s simplicity. Donna’s method of representing customer journeys as narrative stories was simple and yet provided enough information for you and your team to understand the goal and pain points from not only the user’s perspective, but from a product and business perspective as well.

In this post, I’ve simplified what I learned and will only be covering the key highlights of her workshop. If you’re interested, I highly recommend checking out her book as she goes into each segment in much more detail.

So what is a customer journey?

In case you’re unfamiliar with this term, a customer journey is basically the story of your users; from how they discover you for the first time, to how they will use and build a lasting relationship with your product or service. Like most stories a customer journey has a beginning, middle, and an end. As I’ve mentioned previously, there are many different ways of representing customer journeys but today I will explain how we can represent a customer journey through the means of story telling and narrative arcs.

Why are stories useful?

Translating complicated concepts in to simple-to-tell, impactful stories can help your team better understand and evaluate your product, its customers and their goals. By crafting simple business, product, and customer stories we can not only identify gaps but better refine our product’s core value proposition.

The Narrative Arc

Donna used the process of film-making as an example to explain the concept of storytelling and mentioned that films, websites, apps, products or services are the same in the sense that they all provide experiences that engage the user. Film-makers utilize a concept called the narrative arc to tell engaging stories and the same arc can be adopted in product development to craft engaging experiences.

Narrative arcs have a beginning, middle, and an end. The horizontal axis represents time and the vertical represents action, excitement or emotional tension. Every narrative arcs shares the same shape as the one illustrated above. The tension or action in the story builds up slowly, reaches a climactic moment, then relaxes steepily.

Arc Plot Points

Every narrative arc begins with an exposition where we are introduced to the hero, their surroundings, and their goal. The inciting incident or problem kickstarts the hero into action. This leads to what we call a rising action where things get more complicated and interesting. Around three quarters of the way through there is a moment of crisis where the outcome is uncertain and the tension is almost at its highest point. Then there is the climax or the resolution, where tension is at its highest and the hero is required to overcomes it’s biggest obstacle. After the climax concludes we have what’s called the falling action where the built up tension or action calms back down and this is where story is wrapped up and our hero successfully reaches its goal.

The Narrative Arc from a Product Perspective

In product development the hero is your users, and the main reason why they require or are interested in your product is the inciting incident or problem that starts their narrative. The crisis they face are your competing factors — why should they use your product? The climax or resolution is the value and competitive advantage that your product offers. Finally, after the climatic moment, your product solves their problem and helps them successfully reach their goal.

Concept, Origin and Usage Stories

There are three different types of narrative arcs in product development: the concept, origin and usage. Each represent different phases of the customer’s life cycle.

Concept Story

Concept stories uncover at a high level, who the product is for, why someone would use it, what the product is and how it’s better than its competitors. Think of concept stories as the founding belief of your organization; what you guys stand for and the promise you’re making to your customers. When drawing out concept stories think broadly and don’t be afraid to ask the big questions. Why does our product exist? What difference are we trying to make?

Origin Story

Origin stories uncover at a mid level, who the product is for, why someone would want to use it, how they will discover the product, what value/affordances someone should see, and what actions they should take. Origin stories are generally more focused on capturing new prospects and are most commonly utilized as part of acquisition funnels, marketing, see strategies etc.

Usage Story

Usage stories uncover how people will use your product and why they will love using it. This narrative delves deeply into usability and user interaction design. How do we keep our audience engaged? How do we offer them the most fulfilling experience?

Completing each one of these stories can help us make better product development decisions and improve our ability to evaluate our product from both the user and brand’s perspective.

The Character Sketch

Every type of narrative arc and customer journey map begins with understanding who the user is. A character sketch (also known as ‘personas’) is a simple of way of understanding the main hero, their current state before using your product. Personas include the user’s age, hobbies, occupation, background etc. and therefore, can become very long and detailed. Donna showed us how we can represent personas in a much more simple way using character sketches.

A character sketch as shown above, is a simple representation of your hero in their current state. There are three elements that make up a character sketch: the character themselves, what’s good for them now, and what they wish to ultimately achieve.

Thinking Big and Simple

Customer journeys can become very detailed and complicated. With so many different users each with their own background, problems, and goals, how do we ensure we have the right character sketches and narrative goals in mind? How do you ensure we invest our product development resources in solving problems that improve the customer experience at scale whilst still aligning with the core brand mission?

Why are we doing this? To make the world a better place…’ — NO

Donna introduced us to a concept of asking ourself five ‘whys’ to help us answer these types of questions. When we are trying to understand our users and uncover their goals ask yourself ‘why?’. Each time we ask ourselves ‘why’ a broader explanation will be revealed. This concept encourages us to focus on the bigger picture and get a better sense of our decisions overall. Donna also mentioned that, in general, you probably wouldn’t need to go deeper than three or four levels of questioning.

Wrap Up

Now that you have a better understanding of what narrative arcs are and the different types of stories they can represent, it’s time to try it out on your own product. Here are some rules of thumb to keep in mind:

  • Stories are always character-driven
  • Characters are goal-driven
  • Goals can change
  • Goals are measurable
  • Tension & Excitement in a story is key

I’ve represented narrative arcs in a form of a visual diagram but it doesn’t always have to be. You can communicate your arcs in written form, visualize it with storyboards, or you can even act it out. Do what works best for you and your team.

The narrative arc method isn’t designed to replace your more traditional GAP and SWOT analysis, all of these methods are designed to help you better understand your product and customers so feel free to mix these techniques together to support your findings.

Donna has done an amazing job of putting this idea forward and I highly recommend you check out her site. You can find the links to her resources below:

Originally published at on August 12, 2016.



Jin Su Park

Head of Design at ThisData, Director of Nu Nomen Studio