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.


An experience map is an important design tool to understand  product/service interactions from the user point of view. An experience map is a visual representation that illustrates the user's flow within a product or service, illustrating their needs, wants, expectations, and the overall experience on the way to a particular goal.

UX Lady Experience Map

Besides the phrase 'experience maps,' other names refer to similar representations. Some familiar synonyms are 'Customer Journey,' 'User Journey,' and less commonly 'Blueprint' or 'Service Ecology.' Normally, I prefer to include the latter two in the multidimensional maps group, because of some subtle differences.

Searching for 'experience map' on the web will yield a variety of different examples, but all have some specific key elements. After reviewing many of them, investigating the existing methodology, and designing one for the company I work for, I have concluded that there are some specific design patterns that all must follow.

To demystify these patterns,  I will share with you some of my insights about them after building them myself. Check my post DIY Experience Maps where I explain how to make an Experience Map from scratch based on the layout I'm using at work.

We can summarize the differences and similarities between them in three elements:

  1. Graphic visualization of the information: what I call 'layout'
  2. Content: Elements included in the experience map. Although most plans have similar elements, some designs vary in the focus they make on one content above others.
  3. Complexity. Simple or multidimensional experience maps.

Content and complexity are the two most important factors to consider when choosing between one layout or another.


1. LAYOUTS

Experience Maps Basic Layout

experience map layout

There are two main types of representation: The standard timeline and the wheel.

The Standard Timeline, with horizontal or vertical layout, is where touchpoints are positioned over a path, organized from left to right (horizontal) or top to bottom (vertical). Choosing the appropriate orientation is essential, allowing everyone to read easily. A well-known timeline you may have heard of is the Starbucks Experience Map.

Then, we have the wheel layout, where interaction phases are more relevant than touchpoints. The wheel is used mainly to reflect a product or service's overall experience. Elements called 'Interaction Phases' make up the main structure. Wheels are limited because they can't show very much detail, but the plus is that they can show more simplified models. Take The Lego wheel, for example, where wheels show how easy it is to communicate the immense scope of an entire system.

Any UX system may contain intricate details throughout, but as a communicator, you need to assess what details are important to the audience. Selecting just the right amount of detail to display will allow you to engage and connect the best with your reader.

Using the right layout for your experience map is a crucial first step. The success and clarity of your Experience Map will depend mainly on selecting the proper type and then the matching sub-elements and graphics.

Starbucks Experience Map

Starbucks Experience Map

Lego wheel Experience Map

Lego wheel Experience Map


2. CONTENT AND ELEMENTS


Common content for most Experience Maps are:

Experience Map elements

User needs /experience triggers:

  • Experience phases
  • Mental status- for example, attention, attitude, motivation or mood
  • User emotions, thoughts, feelings, and reactions during the experience
  • Interaction connection type
  • User activity/interaction (represented by touchpoints mainly)
  • System actions (communication from a system point of view)
  • Touchpoints: interaction points, pain points, delight points
  • Persona and scenario resume
  • System opportunities and service barriers
  • The path (journey sequence)

Some experience maps focus on user emotions. Others focus on interaction phases and system actions. For Softonic, I focus on user emotions and thoughts, merging both with 'balloon messages.'


3. COMPLEXITY

A simple experience map only reflects one possible path during one scenario. For example, The Customer Journey Map through the Red & White grocery store is more specific than the Broadband Provider Journey Map below.

Simple time-line experience map

A complex Experience Map could encompass cross-platform experiences or experiences occurring at different time sessions/scenarios, such as Kuudes.fi service design concept for Helsinki City Library or nForm example of a cross-channel experience.

Multidimensional Exp Map
Kuudes.fi service design concept for Helsinki City Library 
Multidimensional Experience Map
nForm example of a cross-channel experience

A basic experience map follows: one path, one user, one goal, one scenario, and one way. Even when you know the system allows multiple path variations, stick to showing one for a single experience map. Add multiple reading dimensions, or reflect on different personas or paths on the same flow, and you can add complexity to the same experience map.

How to choose a layout?

The right layout for your Experience Map will depend mainly on:

  • First, the amount and depth of content resulting from the preparation phase. The depth and richness can be quantified as the number of touchpoints, opportunities, interaction types, or devices involved.
  • Secondly, in what aspects do you want to put more emphasis: On the touchpoints, system interaction features, functions, or even emotional factors of the experience?

The Timeline format is the most common layout, probably because it is also a traditional narrative model. It's easier to understand and follow for all types of people. Unless the complexity of your project requires it, I recommend you use this layout.


Including elements in the layout

A final essential aspect to consider is how to integrate different elements on the final design to achieve a harmonious and easy to read map.

Here you can see as I organize items in a timeline layout:

a- Path, touchpoints, and connection type. Use arrows to illustrate connection type between touchpoints (First from left to right is a controlled evaluation, between e and f we see a direct connection). I use letters to level each point and easily add a reference to the experience map's bottom.

Experience Map elements

b- System interaction and actions. I use icons to illustrate that the work is taking place (functionality, content section)

c- Include outside system stages. I use a different background to mark interactions that take place outside the system I'm modeling.

d- Balloon messages to illustrate persona. The user thinks-aloud about the experience through the interaction. I also use a red or green color when there is a negative or positive impact.

Experience Map elements think aloud balloon UX Lady

e- Finally, I illustrate the different mental status and moods using a scale or emoticons depending on the focus I want to make.

User mental status with emoticons Experience Map

Try using my design for a timeline Experience Map, with all the elements combined from above:

Experience Map timeline UXLady

Check my post DIY Experience Maps to learn more, and get fully detailed procedures for how to make an experience map layout just like this one.