Is Journey Mapping important for UX?

I was thinking about some of my previous experiences in designing user experiences. A designer is assigned to a feature or a user story, sometimes as part of a scrum team. The first thing they get asked is “Can we see a mockup?” or “Can we start prototyping the screens?” or “When can we see it?”

That in itself is not an incorrect request from non-UXers. But the path chosen to design screens left much to be desired, sometimes. Due to various reasons (time pressure or limited understanding of UX by others or something else) designers dive straight into sketching or wireframing screens and sharing them with stakeholders. In my experience I’ve seen most of the review comments to be something like:

  • The button placement is not correct. Can we change it?
  • The font needs to be bigger. I want to emphasize ABC.
  • The colors don’t look right.
  • I need something flashy and sexy. This is boring.

The reviewers were sending in comments for the look, visuals, layouts and sometimes the content. The feedback was all over the place. There’s nothing incorrect about sharing your views on the visuals. What was lost (sometimes) was the review of the workflow and whether the design helps meet the users needs.

That got me thinking: Why was the emphasis more on the screens than the workflow?

Was that a challenge with the process? Or the scope of the review? Or something else?

I realized it was all of the above and even more.

People are inherently visual in nature. And this is specially evident when we review designs. Most people would gravitate towards visuals more than the content or workflow. So how do we get them to focus on the workflow?

To help streamline our design and review process, we added journey mapping to the design process. Journey mapping was added as the precursor to all design requests. This was followed by usual suspects (Interaction design, Visual Design, Prototypes etc.) Why was this useful?

Journey Mapping helps understand user needs better.

A journey map usually includes:

  • Persona: We called out the persona(s) that this specific journey was applicable to. Being explicit about the persona(s) helps put designers and stakeholders in the user’s mindset.
  • User story: The user story for which this journey is being built. A well written user story should focus on the what and not the how.
  • User’s mental model: Outlined the thought process / mental model that the user is going through, when they think about their goals.
  • Needs: Outline the needs and expectations that they may have, when they mentally outline the thought process. This is helpful in making your design even more relevant by anticipating and designing for specific needs a user may have at any given time. E.g. Showing supplemental information during a workflow / screen that the user may be thinking about.
  • Doing: Outline the specific actions, decision points and flow that the user thinks about, to get their job done. This is a good segue to your designs.
  • Feeling: Outline the emotions that the user goes through, when doing this task. A designer can incorporate various artifacts in their design to allude any fears or encourage positive emotions. E.g. Talking or showcasing user security when the user is submitting or accessing sensitive information.
  • Stages: Categorize the entire journey into specific stages. This is helpful in combining multiple journeys together or even finding common patterns across multiple journeys.

We created a template for use in our design process. Do note that the template is a means to an end. The process is more important than the format. Sticky notes on a wall work perfectly too!

This was the template I created for use in our design process:

I’ll take an example to illustrate this template

Let’s say you want to watch the new Star Wars movie. The example below illustrates the user’s journey for this task. (This example isn’t necessarily comprehensive as the intent is to provide an illustrative example)

Journey maps emphasize content & workflow above visuals.

With no visuals in sight (or serve as a distraction), the design and review focused truly on the persona, workflow, user’s intent and their mental model.

When presented with a journey map and no other visuals, stakeholders naturally focused on the content and the workflow of the design, than the actual visuals itself.

If we were to review the above illustration, the focus and emphasis would be on the workflow, the mental model and the emotions.

Interaction design was truly focused on the rendering of the intent.

I found that when stakeholders were presented with wireframes of the workflow, I was fairly confident that the workflow was fairly solid as it was reviewed before screens were designed. Also, if you have an amazing pattern library (which we didn’t), then the process of converting journeys to wireframes will be relatively easier.

Also, once the user intent is captured well using journeys, it is easier to iterate on designs without changing the underlying meaning of the workflow. Hence interaction design focuses primarily on the visual manifestation of your journey. Contrast this with using Interaction Design to define both the interaction model as well as the workflow.

The cost of change is spread evenly throughout the design process.

The cost of change is much smaller at the journey mapping stage as compared to the mockups or prototypes stage. Here’s a crude representation of what I mean by this:

Do you use journey mapping in your design process? Do you have a different template or process that you use? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Also, if you found this useful and are planning to incorporate this into your workflow, do let me know.