By Silvana Churruca

Silvana is a UX Designer & Researcher with a strong multidisciplinary background: starting with Graphic Design, Arts and Communications, and later specializing in Cognitive Systems and Interactive Media, Product and Project Design Management and Communication Design Theory. Follow Silvana on her LinkedIn.

Baking an Experience Map

Experience Maps are a well known and useful UX tool, but the truth is that when it's time to get one's hands dirty, it's not a very easy task to solve. The options are too many, and the models so varied that making the right decisions can be complicated. If you aren't experienced enough in the end, the best-case scenario will result in an irrelevant Experience Map, and the worst case, with nothing…

But fear not! Today I will share with you my recipe to bake an Experience Map or User Journey

Experience maps and User journeys how to

As with cakes, there are many different recipes for baking an Experience Map. Today I will tell you one basic technique, which includes a few steps that will allow you to create an Experience Map from scratch. And guarantee that in the end, you will have a steaming, tasty Experience Map in your hands.

Let us start with the basics. We will need some essential ingredients for our preparation:



System to be modeling (Obviously)

Persona - You need one persona belonging to your product target. It is advisable to have at least two personas. Sometimes, one persona's trip can be more exciting and useful for stakeholders than others as they expose more relevant issues and opportunities.

Goal - One goal that will direct user behavior during experience flow. Basically: what is the persona's purpose for this specific interaction in this particular scenario? What is she trying to accomplish?.

Mental Status - You will need to define an initial Mental State as a starting point for your persona. This mental status will suffer variations during the experience, and you should reflect these changes in the critical phases of interaction.

Task model - (optional) It is preferable to have a previously created task model -it will make the job easier-.

2 to 3 Scenarios - It is better to have several possible scenarios. When sketching, you may discover some are useful or richer than others. It is crucial to keep in mind that your Experience Map should contribute to the knowledge you (and stakeholder) already have about the product. To make a beautiful graphic representation of an irrelevant (or obvious) interaction issues has no point. The scenario presents a situation and the goal behind the entire experience. The scenario must respond to: What is the user Goal: what problem or need is it trying to address? Does he hurry? Is he relaxed? Is he alone or with others?

Context - Some people use context and scenarios as synonymous, but I prefer to keep them separate as it seems you can have the same context for very different scenarios. For me, a context is defined by the set of facts surrounding a scenario such as physical environment, device and platform constraints, physical space and device or platform in which the experience is taking place: persona is at home, work, street? Is it using a desktop computer or a mobile phone? What are the device/platform constraints?



1-Quality ingredients are essential: Remember, all ingredients should come from strong research and analysis.

2- Keep in mind that the ultimate goal is to end up with a graphical representation that should reflect process and interactions, customers' needs, and customer perceptions through the experience flow. This means that those who work with it should easily understand the overall interaction, positive and negative issues, and make product/business decisions from it.

3- The second thing you must have in mind is: "you are the persona you are working on." Try to keep that in mind at every moment. How will this persona react to this? What would she do? How would she feel?

Preparing ingredients…

Define an initial Mental State: Take your persona, and use context and scenario to define an initial Mental State.

You may have an impatient persona, or a very demanding one -personality characteristics- or two personas with different backgrounds and experiences -expertise level- both of them will act quite differently even if seeking the same goal. A context can also be very determinant for user behavior and directly affect the attention, attitude, or mood (mental status variables).

Mental status is defined as a combination of user personality, background and previous experiences, scenario, and context, and change during the flow experience. In your Experience Map, you could straightforwardly reflect Mental status using the Likert scale for different variables. These are variables like Attention and Motivation. Use a simplified representation indicating only mood status -using emoticons or color scale- complexity depends on the focus you want to do in this factor.

Using the Task Model to identify touchpoints: Use the Task Model to outline touchpoints between system and persona behavior. If you don't have a task model for your tested interaction, jump to the next step where you can identify touchpoints simultaneously to the path draft.

MIXING… Drawing a path draft

This is, for sure, the most critical step. If not done properly, the result will be poor or defective. In this phase, I recommend you work directly on paper or whiteboard, allowing you to take quick notes.

Note: the goal is to find all possible touchpoints, define impact and emotional persona reactions -using the think-aloud technique could be very useful-

Starting with the scenario's first scene, run a persona simulation of the experience, keeping in mind the persona characteristic, the goal, the scenario, and the context. You have to be equally an actor and a focus on the persona you are representing now -it helps to have the persona character print in front of you-. Do it in only one flow and draw a graphic scheme of the path indicating the critical interaction points.

When finished, go back and forward at all times. You need to correct the initial path if you think it is not natural to that persona and scenario. You probably have to re-make that path several times, but it is better if you try to do it in one go the first time -the result will be more natural-.

Follow the path as many times as you need. Each time you go back down the path, you will add different dimensions and elements to your Map.

Here you have a tentative go-over flow (Each point represents a new repetition of the path):

experience map step by step

How to build and Experience Map from scratch

a- Initial draft: Finding touchpoints. Indicate whether they are positive or negative for that user in that scenario, based on their emotions or thoughts -again, follow the think-aloud technique, which will help-. At this point, you'll end up with "delight points" and "pain points." Also, if you didn't count with a Task Flow, you should identify different interaction phases in this step. This will allow you to group content in a more straightforward way in further steps.

b- Go deeper into your simulated user's emotions and thoughts, trying to identify the needs behind them. Here you could end up with a very descriptive user "comment" or thoughts.

c- Identify Interaction flow phases. Split the experience into logical units.

d- Identify all interaction connection types between touchpoints

In the next go, strive to identify opportunities or service barriers behind touchpoints:

e- Use point 2-4 to describing content opportunities or improvements. Could content information or hierarchy be improved for this path? (E.g. Is the user needing content that is not available now? Should we think of reorganizing the content differently according to the relevance they have for the user in this flow?)

f- Use points 2-5 to find Interaction opportunities or improvements. Could interaction flow be improved based on user experience in this path? (E.g. Would it be better to move from a direct interaction to a Controlled evaluation? ) It's an excellent time to find high-level opportunities that perhaps involve a change in the all flow task.

Tips: Use the think-aloud technique and take note of the steps, trying to build a clear and realistic dialogue, alternatively record your voice for each run. This will help you focus on the fidelity with the persona you're using, the environment, and the chosen scenario. Separate dialogues let you distribute the cognitive process more efficiently in exact steps and stages.

Do not force the path to show or demonstrate what you think should be important. Follow the path naturally. You may be surprised at the result. Remember, an experience map is not just a graphical representation of what you already know about the product. It is a tool for understanding and discovering.

The most natural expression is a timeline, but you will see in further steps that this visual representation (layout) could change depending on the needs.



Now stop mixing, let the mixture stand and observe: How natural is the resulting flow? Is the result of information relevant for all product actors?. If you are part of a UX team, this is the right moment to share your sketch with them. Please give them the goal, initial mental status, and persona details and recreate the flow with the system. After, show your draft and discuss with them the main differences. Make all necessary adjustments.

Whenever possible, test the same goal and scenario with a matching-persona real user before designing the final version. Make the necessary adjustments.



Finally, choose the best recipient for your Experience Map. This is a crucial step in the final result. The success and clarity of your Experience Map will depend mainly on choosing the right layout and graphic elements.

You can find more details about the different layouts and how to choose one in my other post: Experience maps user journey and more.

For this recipe, I'm using the classic timeline layout. This layout can be displayed horizontally or vertically.



It's time to bring together all the elements from step 2 into a harmonious communication piece. Next, you can see as I organize items in my timeline layout design.

DIY Experience map, user journey, customer journey

How to Experience Map and User Journey

a- Experience path, touchpoints, and connection type.

b- System interaction and actions.

c- Include outside system stages.

d- I use balloon messages to illustrate persona think-aloud about the experience through interaction (feelings and thoughts).

e- I illustrate the different mental status and moods using a scale (depending on the focus I want to make on this, may use emoticons).

f- At the bottom, include references to all the touchpoints, adding ideas and notes on opportunities or pain points.

g- On top, include a brief reference to the user persona.

Below you have a guide to how I locate all the above elements in a timeline layout:

Experience Map and User journeys

Experience maps, user journey, layout

For more details on the different elements, check my other post: Experience maps user journey and more.



It is time to savor :)

When distributing your Experience Map, don't forget to include a link to persona details and System necessary information (version number, testing on OS, or Browser, etc.).

Finally, remember to keep your Experience Map up to date!

NEW: Just a plus, when I try to make this post shorter, I removed it, but I think it can be helpful:

How to illustrate the different Interaction Connection Types of the system:

Use these signs for connecting touchpoints or interaction flow steps:

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