UXSG2016: Research Toolbox — Personal Journey Maps

Wall of exploratory and evaluative research methods shared by workshop participants. It’s a venn diagram if you didn’t realise!

It’s been a few weeks since UXSG Conference 2016 ended. I’ve participated as a student volunteer this year and I’m so glad that I jumped on the opportunity because I walked away with so much stored in my head and in my heart. (Oh my god, I’m so cheesy.)

On the final day of the conference, I was assigned to help out at the workshop titled Research Toolbox: Exploring Innovation Opportunities, Emotion and Desirability. The workshop was conducted by Miriam Walker, Director of User Experience and Strategy at Digital Arts Network.

At the start of the workshop, participants shared research methods that they were familiar with and also exchanged recounts of their challenges when working on projects. It was supposed to be a short sharing session but everyone was so enthusiastic and helpful. Haha we overran a little because of that!

During the workshop, Miriam also shared two research tools that can be employed for exploratory research — personal journey maps and Microsoft’s product reaction cards. These collaborative tools are helpful to kick off research in an unfamiliar field or industry and are just as useful to explore opportunities. In this post, I will be sharing how to create personal journey maps as well as the benefits of using this method.

Personal journey maps are put together by research participants, aided by prompts from researchers. These maps help us to identify the actions, interactions, touchpoints and channels throughout the current user journey and are also useful to uncover feelings experienced at each stage.

1. Prepare the Canvas

Begin with drawing a table on a wide piece of paper, with the y-axis representing the range from happy to sad and the x-axis representing time. (I’m using an A4-sized paper as an example but A2 or mahjong paper is preferred. Scroll down a little to see a sample!)

2. Set the Topic

Phrase your research objective into a general topic for your participants to chart their personal journey. E.g. Chart out your most recent experience of visiting the airport.

3. Chart the Experience

Participants will then note down single actions/touchpoint/channel on a post-it, and paste it on the map according to how they recalled their emotional experience while being involved in that particular activity. E.g. Travelling to the airport at a fixed rate of $5 because of an Uber discount makes the user very very happy!

Try not to limit the kind of content that participants are writing, but do clarify if the text does not communicate effectively. Also, it is not required to cue participants on when’s the start and end of a journey. For some, the experience of visiting an airport may start once he/she steps out of the home. For others, it may start only when he/she steps into the airport. Since this is an exploratory study, the lack of constraints will help to open up opportunities that can be built on later.

A sample Personal Journey Map.

4. Keep Expanding the Map

What’s really great about this paper on paper journey map is its flexibility. After the first round of writing out actions/touchpoints/channels etc., the researcher should probe to uncover potential stages that could be left out and probe deeper about actions that happened at each specific stage. E.g. ‘Check-in luggage’ can be regarded as a touchpoint. The researcher can then probe further about the interaction with systems and/or people at this particular touchpoint. If the table becomes overcrowded with post-its, grab another paper, draw an x-axis and paste it beside the initial sheet! Move the post-its accordingly along the extended x-axis. This flexibility allows for a more thorough and exhaustive understanding of the entire user journey.

Expanded Map!

5. Develop the Hows and Whys

Use a different coloured post-it to add details related to each stage. In this case, the pink post-its uncover the What (Again — What are the user’s actions, interactions, touchpoint and channels?), while the blue post-its inform us of the How and Why (e.g. Why was that unpleasant? / If not for Uber’s promotion, how else would you travel to the airport?).

6. The Big Picture

The last stage would be compiling and synthesising different personal journey maps to identify patterns. Another session could be conducted if there are gaps to be filled or if further validation is required. I think a possible deliverable at the end of these sessions would be a general journey map similar to this one put together by Adaptive Path.

Benefits of creating personal journey maps

  • As mentioned earlier, this method is a great way to kick off research in an unfamiliar field. It can be used to map out a ‘Day in the Life of…’ as well. Interviews and focus groups are often ineffective as kick off research methods if the researcher has no idea of the field or industry that is being studied. The discussion guide would probably be built from assertions accumulated from secondary research. These journey maps, however, can be formed with just a general topic that’s based on the research objective. The conversation should flow organically based on the first few post-its contributed by the participants who are possible end users themselves.
  • The thoughts in all of our heads gain visibility when we use pen and paper. The problems are written down, the opportunities are written down.. And patterns have the potential to emerge right in front of our eyes. As Tim Brown from IDEO puts it — “The simultaneous visibility of these project materials helps us identify patterns and encourages creative synthesis to occur much more readily than when these resources are hidden away in file folders, notebooks, or PowerPoint decks.”
  • As participants contribute by writing on the post-its in their own words, researchers can use it as an opportunity to identify and understand jargon that are commonly used in the specific fields. This helps researchers to identify key words to use and probe in the later stages of the research process, and also reduces misunderstanding as a result of misinterpretation.
  • While I was observing how the workshop participants were doing up the journey maps, I find this method effective in building engagement with the participant. Some participants took over the stage and the researcher just had to take up the role as a curious listener. It’s a great method to practice collaborative design. Also, it allows participants to have a clearer understanding of what’s user research, which would help to promote a better partnership between participant and researcher.

At the end of the session, Miriam also suggested that if we’re using journey maps for our research projects, it’ll be good to do a test trial within the team beforehand. The trial could help us validate if the topic was well phrased, identify possible prompts, and also build confidence through practice. Some workshop participants who acted as research participants were actually uncomfortable with writing their own post-its, while those that took up the role as researcher found it hard to probe disinterested participants. Running a test trial within the team could also potentially help to match the gap between ‘what we think our customers are thinking/feeling’ and ‘what our customers are actually thinking/feeling’!

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