Journey Maps and Personas as Interfaces

Personas and journey maps can be impactful tools to your UX design and development process. However, as UX professionals, we have to remember that a persona or journey map is an interface. As with any interface, we have to know the context of use and the user base in order to determine if a journey map and/or persona is the appropriate tool. If it is, we have to further understand the context of use in order for the journey map or persona to be useful, usable and desirable to its intended user base.

Personas typically provide user needs, goals, work processes, past experience and other relevant pieces of information about the users. Journey maps often augment personas and illustrate that persona’s experience at various touch points and interactions. However, typically, organizations create these without thinking of them as interfaces. They’re not a UI in a software context, but they are interfaces in that the designers, developers and other project team members must leverage them to make decisions — from key decisions at a product strategy level (i.e., what is the best technology to solve the problem? What features and functionality are appropriate?) to specifics of the fields and user flows of a given screen.

Just like with a software interface, if we’re going to craft journey maps and personas, they have to be informed by, tested with and even created with the “users,” and integrated within the organization to ensure:

• They’re providing the right information
• They can be integrated into the design and development work flow; they’re adopted
• There’s a governance strategy for the personas and journey maps

Without this understanding, personas and journey maps can fall flat, just like an interface that’s crafted without a holistic understanding of the user.

To push this a bit further, a team would be misguided to determine that a persona or journey map is the right output before understanding the context of use of this kind of tool. Before saying “we need personas,” we must articulate the problem that we’re trying to solve. Is it that the product isn’t working for the users based on the analytics and adoption data? If so, let’s take that problem on just like we would a design problem. We may start with, assessing how the product is being designed and developed: How are decisions made? Who is involved? How is the user included? Then we come up with a number of possible solutions. One solution may be a persona or a journey map, but another may be talking with a panel of users informally, performing guerilla testing internally at your organization or doing a proper “design crit.” The right solution will likely become quite clear, but don’t get attached to one, before you’ve assessed the true problem, its context, processes, and the user’s needs and goals.

About the Author

As the director of customer insight at EffectiveUI, Julia Barrett identifies the best ways to uncover the key insights to inform design and leads the team to execute on those methods. With an arsenal of experience and methods, from usability testing to contextual inquiry, she helps discover simple solutions that have a big impact for users and businesses. She also facilitates data synthesis and client collaboration for a cohesive process of co-creation.

Julia is passionate about how customer insight can effectively inform design and address clients’ key goals and gaps in their understanding of customers.

Julia received a Bachelor of Science degree in cognitive science and human computer interaction from the University of California at San Diego.

About EffectiveUI

This article first appeared on the EffectiveUI blog.

EffectiveUI is the go-to UX partner for high-technology companies, including industry leaders within aerospace and aviation, biotech and healthcare, consumer and industrial electronics, defense, energy, financial services, software and telecom. In making technology more useful, useable and desirable, we help our clients reinvent significant aspects of their business — from the experience they provide to customers, to the tools used to streamline operations, to the products brought to market. We work collaboratively with clients to solve complex business problems and drive transformation through four tightly integrated areas of expertise: user research and insight, digital strategy, UX design and UI development and integration. Learn more at