We’ve all been there: You’re a few weeks into a project, you’re presenting your new UX design to the bosses, and suddenly someone raises an important-yet-previously-overlooked-until-now issue. The floodgates open. It becomes clear that this issue is critical, and requires a substantial overhaul of the entire design. You’re not quite back to square one, but you’re pretty close. Hours of hard work are thrown into the trash, and a brand new file is opened. Back to the drawing board. Literally.
Frustrating? Of course. Waste of time? Yup. Surprising? Not really.
It’s not a coincidence that your boss hasn’t raised the issue with you until now. Your product is part of a very complex ecosystem. It is difficult, some might even say impossible, to map all the interconnected parts of the product in advance. It is equally, if not more, challenging to maintain cohesion and common understanding among project members about the essence of a project, its goals, and how to create your dream product.
But, never fear! There are tools that can help reduce stress, promote understanding, and foster cohesion across all aspects of a product. This article focuses on user experience maps, a flexible and effective instrument that allows project members to discover and disclose critical user experience issues beginning in the early stages of product development.
Legend says “X” marks the product. Luckily, friends, we have the key to the map.
Experience Maps? What’s that?
TL;DR – User experience maps demonstrate the process, context, and experiences of users as they navigate through your product.
The basis for any experience map is the sequence of steps a user takes both inside and outside of the project. Above all, experience maps show us the many angles and facets of a user as they navigate through our product. How does your user feel? What is he thinking? Where is he confused? How is he communicating with the product? And so much more.
The following example of a user experience map will be helpful to reference throughout the post. This is an example of a simplified user map for a fictional travel site (in the vein of Kayak, Expedia, or Travelocity). In practice, user experience maps can be varying levels of complexity, and the designs can change drastically, but a quick Google or Pinterest search for the term “Experience Map” will reveal that all user experience maps have more or less the same structure and base.
Tool Overview: What is an Experience Map Made of?
User: Think of our user as an actor. Our user passes through the experience of using a product that is described in the map. Experience maps allow us to look at the journey a user takes through our product, what is his point of view, as well as his thoughts, feelings, and goals as he moves through our product. To do this correctly, we have to define the persona behind this user – from his name to his demography, through his relevant scope of knowledge, and all other aspects of his life and personality that are relevant to the journey he will take with the product.
As in the example provided, we recommend filtering the basic details of the user to align with the experience map. This process helps us to always keep in mind who the user is and what his point of view is as he moves through the process.
So, what’s the story behind your journey, Bilbo?
The Journey’s Story
The story is the heart of the map. The story explains the way that the user moves through the product in order to complete their goal and the way our product moves them through this process. It is important to define the context through which the journey takes place and to clearly understand the scope of its development. In other words, we must define where the journey begins and ends, keeping in mind that the story could start a few steps before the product is introduced, and end a few steps after the user has stopped using the product directly. It is, therefore, important that we remember the broader context of the product’s use.
In our example map, the user wants to purchase a vacation, which in turn is the foundation for all subsequent actions mapped out. It is simple to see the superstructure within the parts of the story and titles (stages of collection and buying, additional titles, detection, comparison, and purchase).
The Action Sequence
In this section, we explore the actions that the user goes through in order to advance themselves towards the completion of their goal. We should not only limit ourselves to the physical actions being carried out with the product but also try to see the experience in a broader context – is the user performing any offline actions? Does he leave and come back after a while? Does he communicate with other people throughout his or her usage?
In this section, we explore exactly what goals the user is trying to accomplish at every stage of the journey. The user’s goals do change throughout the stages of the journey. In our example, the goal at the beginning is to understand your holiday and budget options, and only after does the focus shift to specific locations. Focusing on the goals of the user allows us to better understand the reasoning behind the actions, and sequences of actions carried out with the product and help us to build an interface that supports the user through the completion of their goal.
This section focuses on the thoughts and positions of the user at various points throughout their experience with the product. What does the user know about the product at the start of usage? What information is he lacking at every stage? What are the questions and goals that concern him? What issues is he confused or undecided about?
In the example provided, the user thinks a lot throughout the process about finances and budget. The user tries to understand the nature of the vacations offered to him while wondering about the reliability and security of the site and content. These topics direct us to find solutions, in turn creating confidence by emphasizing the dialogue between the user and the product, promoting existing solutions to his queries.
Each distinct step of the journey comes with its own unique emotional tone. At certain times users feel tension and confusion, while at other times they experience joy, excitement, or boredom. The user experience is woven with the emotions and feelings that arise during the use of the product. Understanding and identifying the emotional state of the user is integral to forming an experience map and helps us to better understand our product, to address interface issues, identify unwanted product situations, and to neutralize problematic incidents.
By examining the use of the website through the emotional lens, we can identify the initial positive reactions felt by the user – enthusiasm, curiosity, and excitement – when beginning to use the vacation search engine. Using this information, we can build and grow these emotions by incorporating large and enticing images of a desired vacation, positive stories from other users etc. As the map progresses, we can see the levels of emotion change as the user begins to fear commitment to the prices and purchase, which we can address by highlighting the consumer security system which is included in the product.
Touchpoints and Platforms
Throughout the journey, our user operates on multiple platforms and channels, sometimes within and sometimes outside, of our control. Throughout every step of the map, we must highlight which channels the action takes place in, using which factors, and with what type of interface the user is working in. This type of mapping helps to determine which platforms to emphasize. In addition, the mapping of different touch points throughout the process helps us to understand the wider context of using the app and allows us to see how we can leverage the context for a better user experience.
Returning to our example, we see that users have a tendency to consult with friends about their vacation options. This insight can become a guideline to help us introduce easy sharing options, in relevant places. In addition, we see that it is also important to users to check the review scores of possible vacation items. We might want to create an option within our product to display user reviews, from our users as well as from popular travel sites, in a pertinent place on our website, in order to avoid leakage and add a sense of user security.
Insights and Opportunities
This is your space to explore the patterns and insights from all the content you’ve organized in your experience map. Now is the time to try to make sense of all the data, to understand what can be deduced from each stage, determine critical stages, and discover if there is a problem that needs to be solved or a hidden opportunity that needs to be fixed. These insights and opportunities can help you to create a sharper product strategy while helping to open your eyes to the strengths and weaknesses of the interface.
Through our example experience map, we see the importance of giving users a chance to thoroughly explore the characteristics of the resort locations in order to decide which destination will be the most lucrative. Based on these insights, we can design a feature that allows for side-to-side comparison of the items, in order to allow the user to easily focus and make sure he sees the relevant information.
You don’t have to be telepathic to understand what each team member wants from the project
Why you Have to try This
In general, companies are trying to create products that are easy to use, and provide a value or service to their customers. Most commonly they fail due to a lack of focus and understanding on the part of the company focusing on the technology rather than the interface. For example, a design that focuses on cutting-edge touch technology yet misses the practical usability need for a positive user experience. Experience maps help to create a shared understanding of the user experience for everyone involved in the creation process of a product.
1) Experience your product from the shoes of the User
Focusing your point of view on the user experience narrative allows the team to relate to what the user goes through on his journey with the product or system. This helps the process of creating solutions to meet the user’s needs that much easier and more intuitive. The structure of the map forces the team to methodically investigate UX elements of the product that are frequently overlooked during product creation and design (such as emotion and context of use). By using an experience map your team can consistently refocus their attention on the user’s experience.
2) Take A Bird’s Eye View of Your Product
Your product is a complicated and delicate organism. Even for team members working on the design and creation, it can be hard to grasp all of the moving parts. Experience maps help us to tackle this challenge; the incorporation of the user’s story into a multi-dimensional diagram allows us to see a single aspect of the user experience, including switching between platforms, the connection between the different parts of the product, and the interaction with outside features -all from the eyes of the user.
3) Create a Shared Vision for the Whole Team
The experience map serves to be a source and touchstone of shared information and utilities that help to foster a consensus on the product strategy, design, and creative process. Throughout the brainstorming and planning process, the user map is written as a joint project by members of the team from different concentrations and areas of expertise, allowing all team members to have the same information, and literally be on the same page.
4) Preserve Your Information and Keep the Concept in Mind
The map is a tool in the creation of a joint information hub. It also provides a single, concise, central point to return to through the process of building and creating your product, as well as a litmus test to make sure your product continues to evolve to meet the user needs. In addition, it helps to educate and catch new project members up to date if they join the team part way through.
Poor Indi, if only you had a User Experience Map
How do we Create a User Experience Map?
Define Your Lens: Decide Where to Focus
A typical product has many facets, so we have to first choose a lens through which to examine the product. Our lens should be comprised of several contributing factors, and include user type, the scope of the journey, and the main aspects you want to study. The lens guides you through the process, the angle of which we write the map, information-gathering process, the questions we ask, and the architectural informational content of the map.
In the map we built, for example, we have decided to focus on the user experience of a specific persona (a male, aged 22, a student on a budget). The map describes the user experience of this specific individual from the time he begins direct interaction with the product (begins searching for a holiday), until he finishes the process, without touching on the loss of users or the after-sales process.
Eyes and Ears Open. Gather Your Info
We begin with the gathering of information. Starting with preliminary research, user and stakeholder interviews, and then move on to user observation and competition research–we rely on the qualitative and quantitative information we can gather. We must decide the parameters and scope of our information collected based on our time and budget constraints.
Set up a Meeting. Actually, a Series of Meetings.
The creation of a user map should be a collaborative process. The strength of a user experience map lies in the information collected from all team members. Cooperation is imperative to create a quality map that encompasses all aspects and facets of the product. In a typical team, the process of creating a user experience map should include the product manager, UX planners, developers, customer service and support, sales and marketing, and user representatives. The product manager or UX planner will typically be in charge of the actual creation of the map, and using the insights and content brought forward by the team members they will create as extensive and complete a user experience map as possible. In addition, each team member should contribute their specific insights about the user journey, and emphasize their own unique understanding of the user perspective. Each subset of the team will have their own unique point of view and perception of the User’s Experience as he moves through the product journey. Support staff will have insights into where and when users are having trouble using the product, the marketing staff will understand more about the motivations of the users, and management has the ability to highlight the overall vision of the product, as well as to focus the business objectives of the product and make sure everything is aligned with the company’s goals.
It’s Tidy-up Time.
At this point, as we begin to approach a critical mass of knowledge and insights about our product, we must begin to process and categorize the information for the map itself. The finished goal of the map should be well organized and clearly understandable. In order to accomplish this, we need to work in a methodical and organized fashion throughout and keep a reasonable number of categories as well as a well defined-lens, strict standardization of information, and an overall understanding throughout the project team of what kind of a map we want to illuminate. This step is far from simple and can be complicated by different or conflicting insights. At the end of this step, we should have an initial framework for the map or several versions to choose from so we can begin making decisions about the steps to come.
Open it up: Do Some Analysis
This stage is dedicated to brainstorming about the nature and character of the map. After the initial work on the structure and function of the map set up another meeting with the team, either individually or separately depending on the complexity and team organization. Present the team with the framework of the map and the information gathered. These meetings are critical. The goal at this stage is to fill in the gaps and correct any inaccuracies by going step by step through the map with all members of the team. This is the essential stage where the team members have the opportunity to add their feedback and point of view. This feedback will strengthen assumptions and verify information that is already on the map, yet sometimes the information unmasked during this stage will conflict with the structure and existing information on the map. It is important to document these meetings, and at the end, if need be, to reevaluate the existing ideas and information. It is important to document the discussions and see where there is a need to modify or qualify the map. The team dialogue will offer ideas related to the product and to the experience of using said product. These ideas are very important, and you should record them in the insights section at the bottom of the map.
We commit to a specific iteration – and move forward
They knew it at Hogwarts: Maps are a kind of magic
How do we use our User Experience Map While Designing our Product?
Use it to learn about the world of knowledge, content, and experience from the point of view of our user.
Create a synthesis of knowledge within the team, and bridge separations between perspectives, responsibilities, and bodies of knowledge in order to create one coherent view.
Detect and identify problems or possible user issues. Even in the early stages of the map’s creation, we can begin to target actions, thoughts, and feelings of the user at different points throughout the map.
Gauge opportunities by dividing the user experience into stages and categories. This allows user understand when the user is feeling and experiencing every step of the way and helps us to examine how we can enhance the user experience and best serve our business goals.
To preserve organizational knowledge, both professional and user. Experience maps concentrate and consolidate a lot of diverse knowledge in one place, making it possible to introduce new people to the projects, by focusing the project definition as and narrative, at any stage of the product conception, design, and development.
Guard the essence of the product. The map allows us to check our product throughout the stages of planning, design, and various development levels, to make sure the product continues to meet user needs and project goals.
It’s Time. Start Mapping
If you and your team have not had the opportunity to work with a User Experience Map we recommend that you begin with your next upcoming project. Experience Maps enrich the general and specific understanding of the design process and the product itself, as well as to cultivate a richer understanding of the product across the team, and helps to inspire quality conversation and insights. The team, unified by one common experience map, can then branch out while maintaining the core framework, and make more decisions independently, with less confusion and more understanding. Ultimately, User Experience Maps increase productivity and improve the level of satisfaction involved in the project. Team members, when involved in every step of creating the map, feel more cohesiveness as a team, more individual ownership of the product. Ultimately, they allow every team member to feel that their voices are being heard and that they as individuals have an influence on the product.
Most importantly, the needs of the user and the user’s point of view must become the central issue and challenge that the whole team can focus on, discuss, and solve in order to create a truly unique and wonderful user experience.
We’d love to hear about you and your team’s experiences creating and applying a User Experience Map.