Broken links don’t fix themselves

For me it is still surprising to see how many products neglect the complete user journey. They’re backed by great teams with tremendous resources yet they still suffer from tunnel vision. The products themselves are impressive but they leave far too many opportunities for the user to exit through the wider ecosystem. You can build the best product in the world but if you’re not accommodating user needs in full they will find a way to move on or in the worst case scenario they’ll never find you.

Personally I think the problem arises from a lack of empathy towards the user. All products consider user needs but the quality is questionable. More often than not the basic frustrations and goals are identified but they are not investigated deep enough. The assumptions that emerge from these frustrations are broad and do not fully consider the intricate networks of decisions behind them. Product usage frequently tends to be the sole focus of the team and I’m a huge supporter of starting with empathy mapping to help solve this problem. To get started with an empathy map is super simple:

  1. Grab a white board or large sheet of paper
  2. Assemble your product team and articulate your users problem
  3. Add your target users name and role at the top
  4. Divide the space into 4 sections: Thinking/Feeling, Hearing, Seeing, Saying/Doing
  5. Ask the group to describe the experience from the users point of view

Thinking/Feeling should focus on what matters most to the user. Hearing should consider what noise is reaching the user and what is the source of this. Seeing pertains to what their environment actually looks like while Saying/Doing highlights their attitudes and behaviours.

I suggest starting with an empathy mapping session as it facilitates discussion between the group and identifies the actions that the user is performing across all senses. More importantly it doesn’t go into too much detail about the solution they are using. The real value for me comes in identifying the start and end points for your users journey and challenging whether these are the ends of spectrum.

Once you’ve identified the start and end points you’re ready to begin identifying the links between them. The links are important as each one represents an opportunity for your user to escape, and if it’s not obvious that has serious consequences! If a broken link is present it provides an opportunity for your user to look elsewhere for a solution. Ultimately, if you leave them to figure it out for themselves it results in one of the following possibilities:

  1. They abandon their journey and come back later (delayed conversion)
  2. They abandon their journey and never return (hard to win back)
  3. Abandon their journey entirely (you’ve failed society!)

“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little better.” Jeff Bezos

You don’t want any of the above scenarios to happen so you need to start paying more attention to the entire journey. As with empathy mapping it's really easy to work your way through a user journey:

  1. Highlight the start and end points (use your empathy map)
  2. Identify the links or activities between these two states
  3. Repeat step 2 between each link
  4. Define the requirements/conditions for each mini step

Below is a quick example of wanting to go on holiday:

1. Highlight the start and end points

  • Want to be on holiday

(Linking activities)

  • Return from holiday

2. Identify the links

  • Want to be on holiday
  • Research destinations
  • Find a destination
  • Research flights/hotels
  • Book the holiday
  • Plan an itinerary
  • Transfer to the airport
  • Be on holiday
  • Return from holiday

3. Repeat step 2 between links

  • Want to be on holiday
  • Know your dates
  • Know your budget
  • Know who you’re going with
  • Etc.
  • Research destinations

4. Define the mini steps

  • Know your dates
  • At what point does the user start thinking about going away?
  • When can the user go away?
  • Does the user care about their travel dates?
  • Etc.

As you can see from the above we’ve suddenly opened up a world of possibilities by expanding the links between our start and end points and lots of those possibilities exist outside the product itself. The challenge is now finding out which of those links are broken, prioritising them and thinking of viable ways to fix them to delight your users (more on that in my next post).

I hope you found this an interesting read and I would love to hear your thoughts. I’m also keen to see if you are using alternative methods and what the impact is on your product(s).

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You can also find out more about ucreate and the products we provide at




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Alex Bolas

Alex Bolas

A product and technology enthusiast

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