What’s in a Journey Map and how does it serve us?

First, let’s begin by defining what a Journey Map is. A Journey Map outlines the path a user takes throughout an experience. This can be current state, future state or a combination of both. At its essence, it is a tangible, visual manifestation of the research that preceded it and therefore cannot be created in a vacuum. From an engagement perspective, a Journey Map is a tool we use within Service Design to find solutions for our clients and their users.

So, what’s in a Journey Map? Well, it depends! The general anatomy of a Journey Map can be outlined as follows but it can vary depending on the engagement and the work. It’s also important to note these categories should answer the questions addressed during research.

Phases: What are the phases a user goes through in a given experience?

Emotions: What are their thoughts and feelings as they move through those phases?

Actions: What are the actions users are taking at each phase and how are they tied to their emotions?

Touchpoints: What are the touchpoints associated with users’ actions?

Influencers: Are there influencers (material and immaterial) at each phase, throughout these categories, where moments of opportunities or pain points can be exposed?

Behavior Change: Where in the process can we layer in and apply behavioral change methodologies?

Now that we know what encompasses a Journey Map, how do we begin? We start with research. It is what dictates the creation of the map. Because we generally know what is included in a Journey Map, we can guide our research around these entities along with our engagement goals and objectives. To get there, we will likely incorporate stakeholder interviews to understand the client perspective as well as one-to-one interviews with our users to understand exactly how they move through the specific process we’re researching. We want to understand what they’re thinking, what motivates them, what they see as barriers and the different decision points they come across throughout the experience. In addition, we may incorporate participatory design exercises to arrive at specifics regarding what users might want to see as a solution. Other research tools and methodologies may be used as we see fit depending on the scenario and the client needs.

How does the map unfold? As we begin to synthesize the research, we start to see emerging themes. Is there one obvious path that users are going down or are there “forks in the road” that require users to stop and make key decisions along the way? What is the research telling us? Based on what we find, we begin to frame our map. If we’ve done our job right, the path should start to unfold. It’s important to note, yet again, one size does not fit all. Some maps are very linear because that’s what the research and goals dictate. Some are more complicated with multiple swim lanes and many decision points.

Because of that, beginning with concrete categories such as mapping out the phases can be a good way to get going. As the phases get outlined, the participant actions associated with those phases can be layered in. Our qualitative research will give us data points on participants’ emotions, their thoughts and feelings and we’ll plot those on the right path as well. We’ll also be able to define the different touchpoints a user encounters. A section on influencers can be directly related to users but this category could also be an opportunity to show where the client can help the user along their path. Depending on the engagement, this section could easily help us build recommendations as well. Finally, as we look at the map, we want to point out moments where decision making happens and how we can include Behavioral Change methodologies to encourage positive outcomes along the experience.

We have a map, now what? A map is not helpful if we can’t decipher what to do with it. It’s not enough to plot a path. What about the path is interesting? Where are there points of friction or moments of opportunity? How can we change people’s behavior along the way for the better? Based on what we found, what are our recommendations? We begin, of course, with the main themes and create our strategic recommendations based on those themes. As we dive deeper into finer points along the map, we can outline detailed recommendations based on those points.

So, how can a Journey Map serve us? It serves us by exposing multiple categories across the experience, such as pain points, opportunities and influencers. And revealing those, allows us to address them. For example, let’s consider the example of getting the general public vaccines for COVID. If lack of transportation is a pain point, what is within our power to change that for the user? What entities are involved in giving users access to transportation? Is that something that can be immediately remedied or is it enough — based on our engagement — to simply recognize and uncover this pain point for now? The work we uncover during a Journey Map exercise caters both to addressing and solving challenges immediately and uncovering barriers that may require more work to resolve.

Understanding a user’s path along an experience or Journey Map, helps us understand what’s important to them and therefore what should be addressed. Knowing what needs to be addressed allows us to move towards a solution. As we move towards solutions, we can begin to define the teams that will address them. Addressing solutions leads to actions and actions lead to change. The process, of course, can be much more detailed and nuanced but this — in essence — is how a Journey Map becomes applicable and most importantly — actionable.