Creating User Journey Maps: A Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

User journey maps help you harness empathy to gain valuable insights about your customers and product.

[Featured image] A person in a wheelchair draws elements of a user journey map for a team of colleagues

One of the skills you’ll leverage as a UI/UX designer is the ability to empathise with the people using the products you design. Creating user journey maps can help you harness that empathy and transform it into valuable insights about your customers and product. Take a closer look at what a user journey map is and why it’s an important tool in the UX designer’s toolbox.

What is a user journey map?

A user journey map gives a visual representation of a customer’s experience. This visualisation might cover a customer’s entire relationship with a brand or focus on a specificselect experience they might have while interacting with an app or website. No matter the type, user journey maps serve as a useful tool for understanding user needs and pain points that willand ultimately optimising user experience (UX). 

Why create user journey maps?

The main job of a UX designer is to make products intuitive, functional, and enjoyable to use. By creating a user journey map, you’re thinking about a product from a potential customer’s point of view. This can help in several ways.

  • User journey maps foster a user-centric mentality. You’ll focus on how a user might think and feel whilst using your product, as well as what goals they’re trying to achieve and what obstacles they might face along the way.

  • User journey maps create a shared vision for your company. This visualisation can serve as a reference point for different team members and stakeholders throughout the product development process. 

  • User journey maps can uncover the limitations of your product. Taking the time to map out how users interact with your product (and how they feel doing so) may reveal design flaws or new opportunities you hadn’t considered.

Types of journey maps

Journey maps can be as unique and creative as the products you’re designing. Whilst there’s not one boilerplate template for a user journey, you will find a few main types of these maps. 

  • A UX journey map focuses on the user experience of a specific product, typically an app or website. With these maps, you can understand how customers interact with your software and what they might find helpful or frustrating. This, in turn, helps you design software that’s simpler and easier to use.

  • A sales journey map follows the buyer’s journey through its typical stages: awareness, consideration, and decision. To maximise sales, marketing teams can use these maps to evaluate how customers interact with a brand across multiple communication channels.

  • A customer experience journey map offers a high-level view of a customer-brand relationship across time. A current-state customer journey map focuses on current customer interactions and how they can be improved. Future-state customer journey maps can drive innovation by imagining new customer experiences. 

Elements of a user journey map

As you map out user journeys, you’ll likely find ways to customise your maps to your particular company, product, and customer base. Search for user maps on the internet, and you’ll find various creative examples. But take a closer look, and you’ll find that many of these maps have a few elements in common.

Persona: What segment of users are you trying to understand (current or target)?

Scenario: What interaction are you trying to map out (real or anticipated)? 

Stages of the journey: What are the high-level phases of the scenario? 

User actions: What actions can the user take in each stage of the journey?

User emotions and thoughts: What is the user’s emotional state as they move through the stages? What are they thinking in each stage?

Opportunities: Where can you improve the UX of your product or connect with your customer in a more effective way?

Internal ownership: Which team or team member will be responsible for enacting these changes?

How to create a user journey map

We’ve outlined what a user journey map is, why you might want to create one, and what elements to include. Let’s go through the basic steps to creating your own user journey map.

1. Define the scope.

Creating a helpful user journey map starts with defining your goals. Ask yourself; are you mapping the journey of a new target user across the entire buyer’s journey? Or are you seeking to make a transaction on an app—transferring money, for example—more intuitive? Being clear on your goals can help give you more relevant insights once your map is complete.  

2. Build user personas.

Typically, you’ll want a different map for each unique user segment. Not all your customers will have the exact needs or ways of going about meeting those needs. Think about who your users are, and create a persona for each segment. This often starts with user research. User interviews, focus group discussions, surveys, and prior user feedback can help you develop these personas.

3. Define user goals, expectations, and pain points.

Once you have a better idea of who your target user is, spend some time thinking about what they want. What problem do they have that your product or service can solve? What expectations might they have as they begin their journey? What problems might they face, or what about your product might cause them frustration?

4. List touchpoints and channels.

The term “touchpoint” refers to the point of interaction between a user and a product or business. These touchpoints can occur across many different business channels, including websites, social media platforms, apps, ads, or face-to-face communications. Create an inventory of all the touchpoints and channels you’ve previously defined in the scenario.

5. Map the journey.

You’ve gathered the data you need to populate your map, so now it’s time to visualise this information. This is where you can get creative. Your map could be as simple as a timeline or as complex as a storyboard that shows visually what happens in each phase. You could take a low-tech approach with self-stick notes on a whiteboard or go digital with an Excel spreadsheet or software program.

Many common UX tools, including Sketch, Figma, and Adobe XD, offer journey mapping capabilities. You’ll also find a range of dedicated journey mapping tools, such as UXPressia, Smaply, Custellence, or Visual Paradigm.  The UX research and consulting firm Nielsen Norman Group based in the United States offers a free template that could help you get started. 

6. Validate and refine the map.

Your user journey map is only as strong as it is truthful. Validate the map by moving through the user journey yourself. Usability testing, analytics, and user reviews can also help validate that your map reflects the user reality. Continue to refine the map as you discover discrepancies.

Other types of UX mapping

The user journey map is among many types of mapping tools UX designers might use throughout the design process. Let’s take a brief look at some of the others that can be used on their own or alongside your journey map.

Service blueprint 

A journey map illustrates the customer experience. A service blueprint maps out what goes on behind the scenes to deliver that experience. The former is customer-focused, the latter organisation-focused.

User flow 

A user flow maps out the path a generic user takes through a website or app to a successful outcome. These often take the form of a flow chart and are not focused on specific personas. 

Empathy map 

This tool helps you understand a customer segment by mapping out what these users say, think, feel, and do. You may find it helpful to create an empathy map as part of Steps Two and Three above. 

Experience map 

This visualisation tracks the entire experience of a generic user as they seek to achieve a goal or satisfy a need. These maps typically look at a larger context to evaluate how potential customers solve their problems with or without your product.

Next steps

Explore the components of user journey maps by enroling in the Google UX Design Certificate course. Learn about design processes, building wireframes and prototypes, and more in order to build a foundation in UX. You'll also have opportunities to explore user research methods and product testing to help you better understand your customers. Upon completion, gain exclusive access to career resources like resume reviews, interview prep, and career support. 

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