User Experience ? How to plot a user journey close

David Hart
In Musings, Codegent College
19th January 2012
User Experience ? How to plot a user journey

This month I’m going to be talking about User Journeys: what they are used for and how to do create them.

User journeys – what are they?
It’s not hard to imagine what a user journey might look like if you hadn’t seen one before. We’re talking about how people using your site travel through it: the pages they land on, the decisions they take once there and the impact of those decisions on what happens next.

We’ve all experienced good journeys and bad ones online: some make a complicated process easy and painless, allowing you to sail through to the end with barely a thought, whilst others are infuriating and force you to re-enter details, send you off down blind alleys or simply fail to get you to where you wanted to be no matter how hard you try.

The difference between the two can often be something very simple. It might be something to do with semantics: calling something that we’re used to seeing every day something else, just to be ‘cute’. Or it might be that the logic of every possible outcome hasn’t been thought through properly. Maybe we’re forcing people to give us more information than is necessary. Often, the order with which we ask people information can be enough to send them running to the hills. 

A user journey is a step-by-step diagram that shows each part of the process through the site, using visual sign-posts to group things together and identify the danger areas where particular attention needs to be paid.

If you’re creating a new service or a new product, it really is only by plotting user journeys, that you can be confident that you’ve thought of everything and that your solution is the simplest one you can come up with.

Seven considerations for plotting a user journey
1. Use your Personas

Last month I wrote about creating Personas. This is definitely a good place to start: even if it’s only to work out how existing and potential customers will have different goals. The likelihood is that your Personas will be more complicated than this, you may have a variety of stakeholders who need to achieve different things.

2. One diagram per outcome
We think it’s easier to create a different diagram for each key goal or expected outcome. Within that diagram there might be multiple routes that people take, but essentially you’re looking for a single final outcome. An example might be getting someone to sign up for a free trial of a product (as in the image above from our recently launched Schedule App).

3. Show each step of the journey
Don’t leave anything to chance – we want to try and think through everything that a user might do and what decisions he or she will take.

4. Logical grouping of steps
Deciding whether to go for a free trial or subscribe to a service straight away: they are two different steps, but they should be grouped together to give the people working on the site a shorthand reference that these things are linked. In a user journey with 20 steps, the more you can arrange things logically, the easier it will be to use.

5. Pain points
Pain points are something we talk about a lot when it comes to the user experience. There are some things that will be a joy: choosing which colour of shirt they want. But there are other things that will potentially turn them off: logging in when they’ve forgotten their username, or entering their credit card details. Where there is a pain point – make the box red or stick a big warning sign next to it. This will remind everyone that this needs special consideration and thought. 

If things aren’t working well with an existing site, the pain points are probably the areas that need to be looked at first as they are most likely causing  the problems. It’s much better to spend your time making your pain points as simple as possible than introducing whizzy new functionality, however tedious that might seem.

6. Notes
Finally, make notes across the journey: assumptions, other considerations or 3rd party functionality that may have an impact on what the user experiences.

7. Workshop
If you’re plotting user journeys as part of a workshop with all the stakeholders inputting their ideas, they can be sketched out in a down and dirty way, the use of Post-It notes on a wall work well for allowing people to consider all the steps and iterate.

Ultimately, it is always good to reproduce that working into an electronic format so it can be referenced by the designers and developers throughout the project.

Once we get into user testing, it’s always good to reference it against the user journey to check that the assumptions we made were correct and things like pain points have been effectively overcome.