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# Journey Mapping Guide

Journey mapping is the process of discovering and documenting the paths that people take while accomplishing a goal. They create a shared understanding of users' goals, mindsets, and emotions. Here we look at what they are and how to back them up with research.

Journey mapping is a hot topic. It's quickly becoming one of the most used and loved tools in the UX designer toolbox. According to Google's keyword planner, the phrase "journey mapping" gets roughly ten times the number of searches than the much broader topic of "UX research." People are on to something. When done well, journey mapping is an excellent tool to help your team create a deeper, shared understanding of users and, because of that, can have a significant impact on your UX design process.

# Journey Mapping and the UX Design Process

Journey mapping is just one among many UX design practices that help you get inside people's heads and scope out how digital services could meet their needs. Like personas and UX strategy, it is usually done early in the UX design process, before prototyping or wireframing. Because journey mapping can rely on personas (brief narratives of who your users are and their goals), you may want to consider doing it after your persona work is complete. In reality, though, there is an overlap between personas and journeys, and any work you do to inform either one will serve each practice well.


Journey maps are a collaboration tool. Yes, you can document them in their final form in a beautiful illustration, but the real power is in the process itself, especially when you combine it with research using a tool like SoundingBox.

# Benefits of Journey Mapping

Journey mapping can generate various forms of shared understanding in the context of conversations between members of your team and other organizational partners. It helps to focus teams around a common, shared understanding of customers and what their lives are like.

# A Context for Conversation

Of course, you should produce a good looking, well-designed journey map as the final deliverable. Stuff like that is easy-peasy for designers. But let's pause to dwell on the real purpose of journey maps. At their base, they are a collaboration tool. Their real power is the conversations that they spark among your core and extended teams. If, during your discussions, you or your colleagues are saying things like "hey, I hadn't thought of that" or "wow, that's new information," then you can consider your journey mapping exercise a success.

# Cross-Organization Shared Understanding

Not everyone in your organization has the same hard-core dedication to UX that you do, but you can still have your message reach people in other organizational roles. Journey maps are a great way to do this since when they are well-documented, non-UX folks can absorb them. Consider having a lunch-and-learn (with lunch included!) and invite people from other walks of life. Chances are you'll learn something, and they will learn something too. Pulling as much of the organization together around a common customer-focused goal is rarely a bad thing.

# Journey Map Elements

There's a lot of leeway in how you decide to draw and document journey maps. Check out the resources for examples. Most journey maps have the following building blocks.

# Actor

Journey maps, like user personas, have a brief description or narrative telling you something about the person going on the journey. This person is often called the "actor." Ask yourself what you know about the actor: where do they live, what are their demographics (age, income, education level)—whatever is pertinent to your business or customer. Try to be open to what you don't know, and be careful about making assumptions. When you sense you may be pulling things out of thin air, consider where you might get real answers. Do sales and marketing have profiles they've been using based on surveys? Have competitors made assumptions in their marketing material that you can leverage?

Even if you have gaps in your information, press on. Try to mark what is known and what is only assumed. These open questions can inform your goals when defining a journey map research project.

# Scenario

A journey is about going places with a goal in mind, so brainstorm a few statements to define a goal. Examples of scenarios might include:

  • Buy a new midsize family-friendly SUV for less than my budget of 30k.
  • Get a new phone because my plan is up for renewal.
  • Explore options for online grocery delivery in my area.

# Phases

Another element of customer journey maps is the phases or steps that the actor goes through on their journey to accomplish their scenario or goal.

For example, when attempting to learn about online grocery delivery in my area, I might:

  1. Search: Go to google and type in "online grocery delivery."
  2. Compare: Browse results looking for clues about how it works and click on a few companies.
  3. Decide: Get my questions answered like "how does it work?", "how long does it take?"
  4. Sign up: Easily find the sign-up button on the company I've chosen and get through the process in 5 minutes or less.
  5. Shop for groceries: Fill up my virtual cart with items that I'm used to buying in person. Wonder what will happen if the store is out of the thing I've ordered. What if they don't have the weight or quantity of the item that I want?
  6. Get my first delivery: Learn that I need to talk to the delivery person as they shop. Figure out that I need to download the app on my phone to have this conversation. Be annoyed about the extra step, but also be delighted that there is another human being on the other end helping me.

Even a "simple" service like online grocery delivery can get very complicated and have many touch-points (a website, an app, a freelance delivery person) and many points of potential failure. Just by thinking through the steps on our own, we've learned something about online grocery delivery. That's the beauty of journey maps. They force you to do that. The more detailed and comprehensive your map, the more you're going to learn.

# Questions, Mindsets, and Emotions

When done well, journey maps are about more than just the material steps people take or the physical touch-points they encounter. Journey maps are also a UX design tool for getting inside of people's heads and should also include:

  • real thought processes
  • fears and misgivings
  • past experiences
  • biases

To follow up on our online grocery delivery example: what if we missed that a big question people have before getting comfortable with ordering their first delivery is "what about produce quality?" In-person shoppers are used to looking carefully at the produce and giving it a sniff or squeeze to get the fresh stuff. "Will the delivery person do that for me?"


Why we advocate for backing your journeys with research: the more you know about how real people think through the process, the less likely you will be to miss critical details, and the more likely you'll be to deliver experiences that address their concerns.

# Informing your Journey Map with Research

Most journey mapping guides say your journey maps should be based on research but have little to say about doing that research. Before you start brainstorming about your customer journey without research, ask yourself, what do you know about how your user goes about accomplishing their goal?

In particular, to what extent do you have the following items:

  • A list of common questions people have about the process
  • An understanding of what people consider the most important part of the process
  • A list of steps that people truly take as they go about the process in the real world
  • An idea of how long someone may take to complete the process
  • A list of emotions or mindsets that people are bringing to the process
  • A picture of peak moments that resonated powerfully with people as they work

Journey map research can help you assemble these items and will make your journey map much more realistic.

# Create a Journey Study

A journey study is a type of exploratory user research that you can do to help you build out your journey based on a deeper understanding of how real people accomplish a given goal. Like most user research, your journey study will involve asking participants to show you how they would go about doing something, like exploring online grocery delivery services. In most cases, you'll ask them to think out loud as they go through the process. Through this simple study design, you'll begin to form impressions of common questions people have and the frame of mind they bring to it.

You can give your journey study either a focused or broad scope.

  • Focused Scope - Have the participant complete a goal (what we call a study task) on an existing process on your own or a competitor's web site. Have them talk through what they are thinking.
  • Broad Scope - Instead of having people complete a relatively narrow task on a specific site, ask them to start at Google and talk through their thoughts as they formulate a search and talk through the results. Suggest that they perform the task as they would on their own and ask that they visit more than one site to form an impression about how the service works and how they would decide.

# Analyze Journey Map Study Results

A journey map study will produce a series of videos, one for each task you've asked people to complete. When you watch these videos, listen for statements where people describe the questions they have or any biases they bring to the process. Start making lists of these questions, concerns, biases, feelings. You've now got real data that you can use to inform your journey documentation. Consider downloading your videos and linking them to the journey documentation you're producing. Imagine how much more powerful it will be when sharing your journeys with extended teams if you play a clip showing someone having a peak moment or articulating an unexpected but profound question.

# Other Journey Map Artifacts

In addition to listening for signals in your video test results, you can also take advantage of open-ended text response questions in journeys. With questions like this, you can ask people to tell you things you'd like to know, like what questions they have or what barriers they faced. These text responses (also called "verbatims" by research nerds) are perfect for populating your journey map.

# Scale Data

Studies can also contain scale questions that assess the extent to which people would take a given action or other measures you can dream up for your domain. These measurements can help sort responses and jump to the most relevant response first.

# Learn More about Journey Map Research

Informing your journey map research with research doesn't have to be costly or something you need a Ph.D. to do. SoundingBox makes it easy to create a journey map study. Learn more in our Journey Map Research How-to. Remember, there's no one right way to do research. It's all a learning process. The only mistake you can make is to not research at all.

# Further Reading