Bounded rationality and the importance of customer journey mapping

Thinking in screens is part of life for any designer who works with interfaces. Our software offers standard screen sizes to start a project with. We are used to thinking about screens and to notice screen patterns in different websites/platforms. So to me it is natural that when we have a design problem to solve, we start right away sketching and designing screens (I am guilty of this myself).

There is a problem with this approach. By jumping straight in to screen design and focusing mainly on the screen to screen experience we could be missing the mark.

Have you ever heard about the concept of bounded rationality? I first saw this concept in the book Thinking in Systems (great read, by the way). Here is the definition, according to Wikipedia:

“Bounded rationality is the idea that in decision-making, rationality of individuals is limited by the information they have, the cognitive limitations of their minds, and the finite amount of time they have to make a decision.”

Based on that definition is easy to understand why focusing only on screen experience may not lead us to the best solutions for our audience. When we do this we may not only affect ourselves but also narrow our whole team’s view, by making them focus on screen design reviews.

This is why customer journey mapping is so important. It offers a bird’s-eye view from the whole user experience, beyond the screen. It surfaces the different touchpoints and channels that the users will interact with enlarging our (and our team’s) bounded rationality.

Even very simple projects can benefit when seen in a broader perspective. For example: in the past I was requested to design web banners. Some questions I would ask during the kickoff meetings were:

  • Where do the users come from?
  • Where they are going to?
  • Which content were they expecting to see in their next step?

I see those steps as a narrative, a story of how we can help our users to succeed and how we want them to feel after their journey with us.

There is another example from a podcast I listened to recently that also illustrates how customer journey mapping can help us to find answers for design problems. In this podcast (UX Podcast — episode #140) Donna Lichaw mentions that she was having an issue in one of the projects she worked on. During a checkout flow, there was a point in which credit card information was a required item. People would drop off at this point of the flow. Her and her team then tried adding a security emblem. They also tested a new feature such as Pay Pal integration. The results of those attempts didn’t significantly reduce the drop off. When the team talked to users, they learned the solution was to add a phone number that would allow customers to call the sales team (it was an Enterprise business). The way to overcome the customers’ hurdle was through an offline channel, away from the screen by screen experience.

Next time you start designing screens (or are asked to do so right at the start of a project), try to step back and sketch a quick customer journey mapping. Bring that to your team, validate it with them and try to broaden the picture. Even a little more broad counts! Expanding your and your team’s bounded rationality will certainly benefit your audience.

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