How user journey mapping can elevate the user experience

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User journey maps illustrate the flow of a user’s interaction with a site. Discover what they are and how to create them in this complete gu

8 min read

Black and gray illustrated map depicting a user journey.

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Part of designing a great user experience is understanding how people interact with a company, its products, and its services. A user journey map tells the story of these relationships. It allows you to explore these interactions in a structured way, and in the process, uncover new opportunities for improving the overall experience for site visitors.

In this comprehensive guide, you’ll discover what user journey mapping is, how to create your own and what such maps usually include. In addition, we’ll also review some of the variations closely related to user journey maps.

What is a user journey map?

A user journey map illustrates the interactions visitors have with a product or service over time. It outlines the various touchpoints and channels where people come in contact with a company. It also maps out the actions that they take, plus the thoughts and emotions they have along the way, visualizing all of these elements in an understandable and actionable manner.

User journey mapping can be used in a variety of ways. You can use it to visualize an entire end-to-end experience, or to better understand a specific, smaller interaction within a larger experience. You can create user journey maps for an existing product, or to explore future concepts and designs.

As a tool of discovery, user journey mapping allows you to analyze your users’ experience in a systematic and structured way. At each step of the journey, you can identify any gaps in the experience and brainstorm opportunities for improvement.

As a tool of collaboration, user journey mapping can help facilitate conversation and co-creation across teams. At the core of these collaborative efforts, a user journey map can serve as a shared vision, or even a plan of action, to help guide companies in making user-centered decisions.

A chart with seven columns showing the intent of a user as rhey go through the proess of scheduling a cake delivery.
An example of a user journey map, which charts user intent across their experience.

How to create a user journey map

Before we jump in, there are a few things to keep in mind about user journey maps:

  • Design: There is no single way to create a user journey map. You can sketch it on paper, use sticky notes on a whiteboard, organize it in a spreadsheet, or create it using your favorite design tool. Choose the format that makes the most sense for you or your team.

  • Research-backed tools: User journey maps are based on existing research and data from your users. You can start by gathering any design artifacts that your team or organization has already created, such as user intent, storyboards, or user research reports. For areas where you don’t have any data yet, you can start with an informed estimate and validate later with additional research.

  • Collaboration: One of the most valuable aspects of user journey mapping is the conversation and collaboration that happens during the process. Make sure to invite important stakeholders to take part, whose expertise and buy-in are required for helping turn the newfound insights into concrete projects.

Now let’s look at the steps for creating a user journey map:

1. Determine user intent

User intent tells you what the user is looking to do. Is their intent informational, ie., looking for information like event details? Is their intent transactional, as in, they plan to make a purchase? Having a clear understanding of user intent helps provide a strong, clear narrative for your user journey map and will ultimately improve user experience by helping them easily reach their end goal.

Take a delivery app, for instance. If you’re designing a food delivery app, you could create a user journey map for delivery customers, and a separate one for delivery couriers.

2. Determine a scenario

Once you’ve landed on the user intent, select the scenario you want to map out. User scenarios describe a specific goal that a user wants to accomplish, the motivation behind that goal, and the steps they would take to achieve that goal.

An example scenario might be: Jody wants to schedule a cake delivery for her friend’s birthday. She expects that she’ll be able to choose a cake design, add a custom message, select the delivery time, and receive real-time updates about the preparation and delivery status.

3. Define the stages of your scenario

Based on the scenario that you’ve chosen, define the high-level stages of your user journey. The stages can be as broad or as specific as you like. Their purpose is to help you organize the rest of the information on your map.

The stages of your food delivery app might be: awareness, browse, order, wait, receive, consume and share.

4. Map user actions, thoughts, and emotions

For each stage of your user journey, list the actions that your user takes, and the thoughts and emotions that they have along the way. The thoughts can be any questions that they’re asking, or any hopes and fears they might have. The emotions are anything that they might be feeling, and can be labeled with words, smiley fac